There’s something about food you can eat while walking, while riding the train, on your way to or from work, as a snack or a meal, on good days or bad, that sets you right back to zero, cleans your slate, warms your belly and heart, and acts as a tool in bringing you back to the moment, crankiness begone, who cares? I’m not talking about the fast food stylings of mystery meat factory chains designed to keep us unhealthy and yet craving more and more. I’m talking about a satisfying, hand-held pouch of nutritious deliciousness (pardon the terrible rhyme) to be enjoyed during any time of year, standing up or sitting down, in stillness or in motion, good mood or bad, alone or in a crowd. For this, any day of the week, I make my way to Sultan’s Market. Back during my time in New York City, I was fortunate enough to attend Yoga teacher training at a remarkable studio in Hell’s Kitchen, an embarrassment of riches in the food department, anything you could need or want within blocks. In the middle of many long days, me and my fellow students would walk a few blocks west to an amazing cafe for falafel pita sandwiches. We’d crowd the literal 260 square feet of space Azuri cafe took up, ordered from the sometimes cranky, sometimes flirtatious man, and walked out with a pita pocket full of the best falafel, hummus, herbs, and spices you’d ever experienced. I left the city and its amazing topography, culture, food and yoga scene to emerge in the midwest, hoping for their own version of the same. I love Chicago. I think it trumps Manhattan in many ways. Some it does not, but what I was very satisfied to find was a fantastic falafel pita sandwich at Sultan’s.
You’ll need to venture to one of two parks. One with a ton of hipsters, large framed glasses, skinny jeans and young artists. That would be Wicker Park. Sultan’s is on West North Avenue, a street with an endless supply of good food, occasionally intersecting with other streets carrying more great food, shops, small businesses and expensive clothing made to look like it’s cheap. The other is a combination of successful, middle-aged parents and college students, also replete with great restaurants and shopping, this time with stores carrying overpriced items that do in fact look expensive along with actually being expensive. That would be Lincoln Park. The LP Sultan’s is on North Clark Street, a long stretch running northwest, cascading from swanky to classy to casual to party. Sultan’s is toward the beginning of a multiple block run of great, valuable cuisine. You can access either through bus, train, bike, cab or foot. Just keep a sharp eye for your fellow man, those narrow curved roads can be dangerous. I want only safe, happy trips to and from Sultan’s.
As you’d imagine since I ranted on about it two paragraphs above, I always order the falafel sandwich. Every. Single. Time. Yes, I’ve ordered other items to accompany my repetitious choice, but never do I neglect to open my mouth as wide as possible and cover the corners of my mouth with hummus, pita and falafel, because it’s that damn good. It satisfies my nostalgia for some NYC middle-eastern while providing an even better atmosphere, and dare I say staff, to round out my experience. Sultan’s is small, with tall ceilings and bright colors, a small buffet table with numerous sides should you need additional toppings. I can vouch 100% for their lentil soup, passed down from Grandma Zafira, for their spinach pies, their meat pies, their egg and cheese pies, their lamb or chicken kebab, lamb or chicken shawerma, their basmati rice, and their impeccable execution of my favorite simple delights, hummus, tabouli, and baba ganuj. Everything tastes fresh, homemade and heavenly.
Beyond the cozy environment, the friendly staff, and the insanely delectable food is the excellent prices. Falafel sandwich will fill most adults with normal appetites. It’s $3.75. I can’t even fathom how they manage to profit enough, given their most expensive item is Mediterranean style tilapia with seasoned tomatoes, onions and lemon for $7. A small soup is $2, large is a measly $3, so I walk out of there spending around 8 dollars (almost as worthless as monopoly money at this point) with tip and feeling satiated, healthy, comforted and energized. My dream is they open one near my apartment soon. For now, I’ll enjoy what have been some amazing days here in the windy city. They deliver and of course offer carry-out, in the event you're unable to make it to either location. Hope you can experience it.
I love a good burger or hot dog, but given our country is made up of immigrants from many other continents, I think America’s best offering is the diverse sampling of ethnic inspiration. Regardless how different and special we may feel, we have much more in common with our fellow human beings than we choose to acknowledge. And we all eat. Each person’s history has carved out a unique appreciation and execution of culinary influences and it is a great start to bridging the mind-created gaps by eating a variety of foods. The key to opening your heart is through the door of your stomach. Open wide.
Be open, in mind, heart, body and taste buds. Spend a little, get a lot. Enjoy.