Chicago is home to many different groups of people with very unique cultures. Walking down any given street you can be overwhelmed by the number of restaurant choices: Chinese, Mexican, German, the choices are endless.
It is because of these reasons that I wanted to write this review. I wanted to focus on different sweets that represent major ethnic groups in Chicago.
Tel-Aviv Kosher Bakery (2944 West Devon Ave.)
When I walked into this small, family-owned bakery, the smell of freshly baked bread enveloped me in a delicious warmth. The glass display cases are brimming with traditional Jewish treats such as bagels, challah, rugelach, hamentashen and deli cookies. I ordered the classics: a bagel, a pound of rugelach and a loaf of challah, all for only $11.
The bagel is significantly less dense than a more conventional one, which I recognize can be off-putting for traditionalists, but I found it very enjoyable.
Rugelach is a traditional Jewish cookie made with a cream-cheese dough rolled around a filling of nuts, poppy seed paste, chocolate, or jam. I’ve never been much of a fan of rugelach myself, but I decided to try the cinnamon and chocolate filled cookie. The dough was much softer and less crumbly than others I’ve had in the past, and the cinnamon and chocolate complemented each other well. The dough even had a hint of banana which made the entire cookie extremely enjoyable.
Next, I tried the challah. It was also very light and airy, and when you cut into a slice of it, you could see the air pockets. This challah also didn’t have the dark glossy brown crust that is a characteristic of the bread. It was sweeter than most challah I’ve had before and had a peculiar egg-y aftertaste, but once I got used to it, I couldn’t stop eating it.
Overall, this bakery was a great find. Everything was delicious, albeit slightly different from traditional recipes. I’m always on the prowl for a place to get my carbohydrate fix, and this definitely fit the bill.
Café Selmarie (4729 North Lincoln Ave.)
This Lincoln Square staple has been one of my favorite restaurants, and by far my favorite cafe for a number of years now. Selmarie opened in 1983 and was originally just a bakery, specializing in German treats. They have moved to a new location and expanded since then. Now they serve a lovely brunch, lunch and dinner, but my favorites are their coffee and of course, their cake.
This time I decided to try the chocolate German torte cake which consisted of three layers of rich, spongy chocolate punctuated by thick almond paste and flaky coconut shreds.
The chocolate layers were soft and moist, but the almond/coconut mixture layers were tougher and chewy which created a striking juxtaposition in texture.
I’m not an expert on German baked goods, but I liked that the bakers decided to blend the traditional torte with some non-traditional flavors such as coconut.
Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery (1512 West Foster Ave.)
This bakery doubles as a grocery and its shelves are stocked fill of Middle Eastern spices, bread, pitas, meat pies, and candies. Basically, anything you could ever want. Right next door is a Middle Eastern grill in case you need to get your shawarma fix after purchasing your pita. I was completely overwhelmed by the options available to me, but in the end, I decided to purchase some pita and some baklava.
To me, the most important part of any pita is its texture. As a rule, I typically avoid American pita for this very reason. I find it to be tough, cardboardy and disappointing.
I was really hoping that this place would have the delicious, airy pita that I had when I went to Israel. Alas, it was not to be. The pita here was freshly baked that morning, but it still had a tough, stale texture, and the flavor was nothing remarkable. Overall, I was disappointed.
However, their baklava was delicious. Baklava is a Middle Eastern delicacy consisting of flaky phyllo dough filled with chopped almonds, or other nuts and dripping with honey.
The “traditional” assortment at Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery was a box of bite-size pieces of baklava with a pistachio filling. These pieces were perfectly flaky and deliciously sticky. The saltiness from the pistachios contrasted pleasantly with the sweet honey.
Although the pita was disappointing, the baklava is definitely worth coming back for.
Cafeteria Emmanuel (1915 West 19th St.)
Located in Pilsen, next to the National Museum of Mexican Art, a brightly lit sign welcomes all hungry persons as they step into the brightly painted bakery and restaurant. Glowing and flashing multicolored lights are hung next to colorful paintings of saints and Day of the Dead sugar skulls.
I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me, and I immediately walked over to the large rack reserved for baked goods. However, I went at noon on a Sunday, so the options were picked over. After reminding myself that I was writing a bakery review, I ignored my grumbling stomach yearning for tacos and picked out a bag of colorful conchas. As it was explained to me, conchas are a sweet bread roll covered in colorful sugar.
I had never tried conchas before and so my first bite was… interesting. I had never had sugar covered bread, or anything even comparable, so I was surprised to find the sugar crumbling off of the bread as soon as I attempted to take a bite.
I re-adjusted and made a makeshift plate out of napkins and dug in. The bread was tougher than I was expecting, but once I started chewing, the sugar mixed in with the dough and it was delicious! The conchas were surprisingly filling and my hunger quickly subsided. My favorite part about the bread was the aftertaste: the sugar danced on my tongue for quite some time after I had left the restaurant.
I’m sure I’ll be back to get more conchas and hopefully try the tacos!