Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Tale of Two Non-Local Dinners
In the Same Night
With a Non-Local Treat

If you know anything about the Omega, the mega-Greek Coffee Shop in Des Plaines, you would find it hard to believe that I was still hungry after dinner. Yet there I was, driving down Cumberland looking for something interesting because, yea, I was still hungry. Many (many) years ago, Mike G asked how. Not how I could still be hungry after eating dinner, but how one finds interesting eats. He focused on Mexican restaurants, but it was a good question for any restaurant. What do people look for when they are out chowhounding. Me, I’m a sucker for signs I cannot read. In languages I cannot recognize.

So, I U-Turned and pulled into this strip mall in Norridge, intrigued by what exactly was Tasty World. There were two especially pale cones of gyro. I did not want that. I quizzed the fetching girl with green eye shadow. She showed me a tri-part menu with value meals across the range of Chicago fast food. I tried to figure out a way to ask nicely. The sign, what the hell does it say. What the hell language is that. Which is what I finally blurted out (or something to that extent). Bulgarian. Bulgarian she admitted. She told me that the sign roughly translated as tasty cheap treats, or Bulgarian fast food. But where was the Bulgarian on the menu. “Oh, this menu,” she showed me—in Bulgarian Cyrillic. She kindly read me the list.

Mousaka, tripe soup, sausage, Bulgarian burgers shaped either long or in patties, a few other things. I got the burgers, one in each shape. It came with, as my daughter noted, Bulgarian ketchup, think red, but thicker and spicier; an onion heavy salad with bottled dressing and crinkle-cut fries (something Ms. Green Eye shadow was especially keen on). It was supposed to be the same meat, but I liked the round patty better. The onion flavor seemed more pronounced and integrated in the meat, a more complex product. It was, as advertised, cheap but tasty food.

Like I say, I should not be hungry after Omega. I mentioned to Pigmon yesterday how I (oddly) loved this place. He zeroed in right away on what made it appeal to me but not him. Vegas. Eating at Omega is like eating at one of the Vegas buffets before they went gourmet. If you know Las Vegas, think Station Casino. Of course, there is no buffet, they just bring the food. Completes start with big bread baskets, croissants, muffins, soft rolls, then soup, salad, big portions of your main, starch, vegetable and finally a dessert that neither looks nor tastes too special but fits properly in this meal. Few people, even me, eat a complete. Rather, we split.

While I love Omega, I really limit myself to a few offerings. My favorite is what I split with my daughter the other night, Greek style skirt steak. I like the meat and its lemony-oregano bath, but I also like (nay love), the Greek salad offered with this dinner. Again, this is like the buffet comes to the table, a big mass of feta fingers, peppers, anchovies, thick vegetables and a creamy, hearty dressing. I just wish they’d dry the lettuce better. It’s not just the gluttony that makes Omega Vegas. It is the crowd. It is my people. Alter-kocker heaven. The loud kibitz, the duds, the packing away the rolls to go, well you just will not find this kinda place very much longer. Appreciate it while you can.

Finally, a purchase far from the Eat Local Challenge; in the same strip mall as Tasty World is a small Middle-Eastern market called City Food. They were selling tiny-tart green plums from California. I figured how much degradation of product could something supposed to be picked too young, to green be? If anything was meant to be shipped, was this not it?

Tasty World
4834 N. Cumberland
Norridge, IL

Omega Restaurant
9100 N Golf
Des Plaines

City Food & Grocery
4832 N Cumberland Ave
Norridge, IL 60706
(708) 453-1899

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