Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter and the Shawarma Sandwich

Can the Best Middle Eastern Sandwich be Found in the Loop...In the Basement?

OK, have I got your attention? Do I really think that the Middle Eastern sandwich stand, part of the Under 55 complex of loop lunch is the best, most authentic in the Chicago area. Nah, probably not, but I would say that like the recently finished Potter and the Dealthy Hallows, it gave me a lot of pleasure.

Like many, Potter's been on my mind. When Dad wants to discuss bad beats on computer poker and Mom wants to talk non-profit politics and one daughter thinks news on Brangelina matters and the other treats the happenings of her crew with as much reverence and detail; we can settle on a family conversation: Potter, Harry Potter. Good or bad Snape, what happened to Dumbledore in the tower, R.A.B., the missing horcruxes, the Gleam of Triumph, the place of Elves. We could always talk Potter as we waited endlessly for book seven. The well done Order of the Phoenix movie barely satisfied. Would we ever get the book, the answers. Younger daughter finished first, I a day later. It was a testament to how the action in the last book enthralled me, that I resisted the urge to start at the end (even as daughter gave a few things away). I dozed off last night revisiting all that happened at the end of Deathly Hallows.

I started thinking of Harry Potter at lunch again today. I thought this. The decent time between books stems not from Rowling's need to figure out how to meld the plots together. No, I think that stuff flows fast. Even in she gets stalled, she has magic to help: turn back time, faked identity, false thoughts, etc. What takes time is the amusements, the names. Many names have clear meanings, Remus Lupin or Xenophiliac Lovegood. More are just plain clever. The Monster Book of Monsters, blast ended skewts. I love the way Nicholas Flamel (the famed alchemist) runs off my tongue. I need Rowlingesque skill to name my sandwich. As many tiny explosions went off in my mouth today eating my Under 55/Caravan lunch, it seemed very Potter. It needs a name.

Anyone (anyone who loves to eat) who has ever been to Israel dreams of the falafel stands. It is not the falafel, good as it may be. It is the toppings. Any falafel stand worth its pita would offer at least 10 if not 20 toppings for your falafel. All of us who have tried that can never be satisfied with a barely dressed falafel. We want the package. Until today, I knew of no place in the Chicago area that came close. Sultan's Market could throw in some salad, hummus and baba ganoush, and some hot sauce, getting there. Pita Inn does a falafel with potatoes, also getting there. They remain far. Only this place, Caravan within the Under 55 food court gets close.

They offer three types of sandwiches, all variations of ground something. There is a dark beef version, a unnatural looking chicken and the classic chickpea. I believe these bases may be somewhat irrelevant. The falafels are not fried to order. The server fills a pita pocket sliced in two, then lets you go to work. A green and a red hot sauce, white garlic called toum, tahini, another white garlic sauce called tzatziki, "Armenian chopping board salad (a little Potteresque, no?); a tiny dice of potatoes mixed with cilantro; fried onions, a slaw, giardiniera, pickled turnips, "wild" cucumber pickles, humus, and a few other things I do not recall. You just pile.

I had this idea that I would do each 1/2 different, to try variations. It was useless. It was one big garbage plate of a mess. After a while I could not even eat it as a sandwich. I should say that the meat itself was quite tasty, well cooked and well spiced. It could have been a good sandwich by itself. Instead, I got Potter. I got Fred and George pulling little stunts in my mouth. Each bite was a mess of hot, spicy, crunchy, sour, fatty, smooth, bright.

I believe some gullets could not take all this. They might not be able to handle the full monty. Still, take the chance. You may find this the best, most authentic Middle Eastern sandwich in Chicago.

Under 55/Caravan
55 E Monroe St
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 849-9512

1 comment:

sdritz said...

I just tried this place today, based on your recommendation here.

It was terrific, and I agree with your assessement that it might be the best in Chicagoland as far as my falafel memories of Israel go.

I can see that I will have to keep going back at least once a week for the next few years.