by Mike Sula
A few weeks back I went along for an all-vegetarian Gujarati outing at Village Hut in Glendale Heights. Suffice to say, this recovered veg turned hardcore carnivore was skeptical to claims that it was going to be anything more satisfying than the standard ghee-soaked mush slung out of galleys up and down Devon Avenue. But the indefatigable ReneG was on to something--this may have been one of the most wonderful Indian meals I've ever eaten--with or without meat (see his photos below).
Village Hut specializes in not simply Gujarati cuisine, but food from the Kathiawar peninsula, a region with a significant Jain population. Jainism, you may know, is the famously vegetarian religion that at its most extreme forbids root vegetables, onions, and garlic, because harvesting them means the whole plant dies. Noble? Yes. Could I live on it? Parshva, no.
Jainism has a profound influence on Gujarati cuisine and according to Hut owner Rajan Chokshi about 70 percent of the dishes on any given night at his restaurant are acceptable in a Jain diet. There is, in fact, no menu; rather, meals are served family style, modeled on the midday meal of poor Kathiawari villagers--millet flour paratha, raw onion, garlic paste, and buttermilk. Here Chokshi departs from the peasant model and adds three appetizers, five vegetable dishes, dal, a couple sweets, rice, curry, and pickles, and keeps it coming--all you can eat for $14.95. We had 19 dishes in all, beginning with some nice omeletty chickpea roll-ups dusted with chili powder and ending with some very sweet palm date sugar cookies--almost like shortbread. Most dishes were very rich with ghee, highly seasoned but not aggressively so. It's a haul, but it joins Katy's, Chun Ju, and Kim's Korean Restaurant on my list of suburban dining destinations.Village Hut, 130 E. Army Trail Rd., Glendale Heights, 630-893-5800; Tuesday through Friday, 5-10 PM; Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 PM.