Kher Albourine & Dino Morched's Kedzie Avenue favorites
The gents from Alhambra Palace show us what to eat, where to shop and how to be treated like royalty on Kedzie Avenue.
When Kher Albourine and Dino Morched—the chef and general manager, respectively, of Alhambra Palace —walk into Salam (4636 N Kedzie Ave, 773-583-0776), it’s just to grab a kabob or two, and maybe a plate of hummus. They don’t expect to dip into baba ghanoush, or tear open fresh spinach pies. They don’t plan to get kibbeh, football-shaped bulgar-wheat dumplings stuffed with ground beef, or freshly fried falafel. But despite their mild protests, food keeps coming. Albourine eschews forks for the meal—he rips pita bread instead, dipping it into the hummus and grabbing a morsel of meat. The falafel, he says, is fresh, noting that it’s only good for ten to 15 minutes after it’s fried.
“You don’t like it if it’s cold,” Albourine warns. Same thing with the shawarma. “It’s not like gyros,” says Morched, who used to work in Greektown and would watch in horror as trucks delivered frozen gyro meat to restaurants. “They make it here.” As he says this, a meat pie is dropped off at the table.
Morched tries to explain the influx of unordered food as a tenet of Middle Eastern culture. In his homeland of Morocco, “Whatever you have cooked, you give it [to the guest]. That’s how deep the hospitality is.” It’s a nice theory, but it ignores one key fact: When Morched walked into the place, he was immediately greeted by an acquaintance, who turned out to be the manager. The same acquaintance refuses to let the gentlemen pay for their meal when they leave to go next door to Nazareth Sweets (4638 N Kedzie Ave, 773-463-2457). But as the men gaze at a pastry case of flaky desserts, Morched’s theory gains traction. “Close your eyes and pick [any pastry] and it will be the right thing,” he says. It turns out he doesn’t have to pick anything. The owners grab various housemade sweets—sticky baklava stuffed with pistachios, rich kunefe, a pastry made with sweet cheese—and push them across the counter. The men laugh and talk as if they’ve known each other for years, and once again the customers exit without having to dig into their wallets. You’d never guess they’d met the owners minutes ago.
“Talk about hospitality!” Morched says. “You see how you don’t have to ask anybody. If you go to a grocery store, it will be the same thing.”
To illustrate his point, they head to Andy’s Fruit Ranch (4733 N Kedzie Ave, 773-583-2322). Walking the aisles, the men point out good deals on Middle Eastern staples (like three-liter tins of Sultan olive oil for $26.99), warn against the terrible flavor of canned hummus and point out the brands they trust, such as the dry goods by Ziyad (they use this couscous in their restaurant). Finally, Morched sees one of the store’s clerks. “Hello, my friend!” Morched says, putting his arm around the man and chatting him up in Arabic. The clerk listens intently, but then confesses, “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Morched looks confused. “You’re not Middle Eastern?”
“I’m Italian,” the clerk says.
But that’s okay. Morched finds other friends at Al Khayameih Bakery (4738 N Kedzie Ave, 773-583-3077) across the street. There, a huge oven stands near the front windows, breathing hot air into the place and baking dozens of cheese pies; various Middle Eastern breads like pita and its thinner cousin, lavash, lie in still-warm bags on the floor. Just up the street, at Farm Meat Market (4810 N Kedzie Ave, 773-588-1266), Morched and Albourine are again treated like stars. “This is the freshest meat in town. They don’t freeze anything,” Morched says. The two don’t even pretend to buy anything. They just wander around, pointing at the lamb, the kidney, the liver. “Thank you,” Morched says to the owner as he walks out. “For you?” the owner replies, beaming, “No problem.”