As you all know by now, Tony Donutz loves to bike around the Chicagoland area and venture all over the suburbs in search of great food. Being from the North Shore allowed me to experience so many culinary delights. Many of these great memories include Sarkis in high school, Harry’s Deli in Glencoe and Big Al’s. I’ll stop reminiscing now before I go off on a tangent. The iconic Pita Inn of Skokie is the destination today. The weather was perfect for a ride over to the diverse suburb of Skokie to remind myself that a lot of high quality food doesn’t have to cost you three hours wages.
In high school I became a vegetarian at the age of fifteen after an LSD trip. During my trip I was extremely emotive as usual and became very sympathetic with the cause of animals. I think this is because I had a conversation with my cat or something and he was like “you know, eating animals is kind of mean.” Then I thought of all the cute baby animals that would grow up simply to be slaughtered for my protein needs. Still to this day I have a problem with commercial meat and all the ethical mazes we navigate every day. In fact it would be great if every one learned to slaughter an animal properly. This actually does relate to the article. Keep reading.
I started eating all types of vegetarian cuisine from around the world as meat substitutes really had no appeal to me. Why would I want to eat fake meat? There are literally infinite combinations of vegetables and other proteins I can eat. It’s no surprise that since I have mediterranean genetics I gravitated towards a diet mainly consisting of foods from that region. Falafel is an amazing way to transform a mundane legume like chick peas or garbanzo beans. In my family we called them chi chi beans. Pronounced chee chee. The Lebanese often use Fava beans in place of chick peas. This actually results in a more buttery Falafel. Pita Inn uses the standard chick pea recipe.
If memory serves I recall going to Pita Inn at all hours of the day to get Falafel, baba ghannoug, hummus, tabouleh and stuffed grape leaves. Usually I was stoned out of my mind and always dug the middle eastern music playing in the dining room. I could eat like falafels like that all day to be honest and if you swap that out with southern Indian and some veggie Thai or Chinese you are doing pretty well as far as eating healthy goes.
The last time I took LSD in 1995 was the last time I ate a vegetarian diet full time. After having a really bad trip on acid called Blue Roses I decided that I needed to start eating the flesh of other animals immediately. My mom made some pasta with ham and I ate big bowl after I came down. Since then I have always tried to moderate my meat eating, but some times it just really is luxurious to eat a huge plate of grilled meats.
Enter Tha Infamous Pita In Business Lunch Special. Twenty years ago I think the business lunch special was $3.99 and the turmeric chicken tender was not included. Today it is $5.99 and I think you can get it without the chicken tender for $4.99. It includes rice pilaf, salad, pita, kifta kabob, shawarma, shish kabob, chicken tender and … a falafel. You might be thinking that this is impossible or that the food quality is going to suffer. That is the incredible thing about this place. Pita Inn has always done so much volume that they can get product cheap and turn it around in no time. The efficiency of the team at Pita Inn is unparalleled. You order and typically have your food in about 5-7 minutes. This particular day I went with Alyse Franco and while we were waiting for our food she said the wait was “kinda long”. We got our food about 8 minutes after we ordered and the new location is honestly doing about three times as much business. All the elements on the plate are really good. The salad has always been something I can take or leave because I don’t like iceberg lettuce and pale tomatoes. The kabobs and shawarma are juicy, tender and loaded with flavor. The chicken tender is never dry and always puts me over the top with protein. I could actually eat this lunch special as two meals, but we rode out to Skokie then to Evanston and back to Rogers Park. Gotta have some carbs so the rice is great for some healthy calories. The saffron rice pilaf is buttery and so savory that you could probably eat that with a few falafels and be really full. The condiments are tahini and hot sauce. These two sauces are simple and all you need to boost the flavor profiles of the perfect cooked meats. The fact you get all that for $5.99 is a game changer if you are pretty broke like I am and need to eat a healthy lunch on the run.
Getting to Skokie is actually super easy when you live in any part of Rogers Park. There is a continuous bike path almost the entire way there. We took Pratt to Kedzie to Touhy and hit the North Channel Trail which is gorgeous. It’s lined with sculptures and is a perfect place to have a picnic, view the river or neck with your lover. It’s also amazing for commuting and I often take the North Channel Trail when I need to get to Skokie, West Evanston or any place that is north west of the city. There are well placed traffic signals and I never feel that this trail is crowded regardless of how many people are on it.
Alyse and I took the trail to Main St. and McCormack, which runs parallel to the trail. Skokie has realized that many of it’s residents and guests are cycling and have installed and amazing bright green dedicated bike path. This really helps the people on bikes get along with people in cars. Even the most concerned person would feel safe riding in traffic here. Once we got to Central Park it got a little more tricky. There is not a bike lane on Dempster and traffic is going at least 35mph so it can be a little hairy if you are not used to riding in traffic. The new location is basically the old Barnum and Bagel location. This is just east of Skokie Boulevard. which is Cicero in the city. Thanks Grid.
The dining room is gorgeous and there is nothing tacky or cheap about it except a cute hand written sign to not touch the glass they have installed as a partition between the ordering and pick up areas. The ceilings are extremely high and the windows allow lots of natural light. The previous location was very small and probably maxed out on diner volume years ago. Pita Inn has an incredible reputation and have opened several more suburban locations. The owner is smart to not go into the city where mom and pop kabob shops rule the land scape. I lived in Albany Park and you can get a taco, kabob or a $5 hair cut on every block.
After we ate our huge lunch we ventured off and just kind of wandered around Skokie on our bikes until we headed to Evanston for the remainder of our ride. Skokie is actually very bicycle friendly and the wide streets allow plenty of room for people on bikes and cars to share the road. You could feasibly live in Skokie with out a car as the Yellow Line is great way to get into the city. You know, once they fix the infrastructure problem they they have had with the Yellow Line the whole time. It has out dated bridges and is probably the most under used of all the lines. In the summer it serves as a shuttle at night to get suburbanites into the city efficiently and easily. The idea of driving into the city is ridiculous to me. In fact, driving in Chicago just seems silly unless you really have a lot of people who can’t ride or are moving a dresser. I hate waiting for buses and trains just to have the privilege of listening to random phone conversations and mass transit tele novellas.
Summer in Chicago is a great time to explore on your bike and sometimes going out to the burbs is a way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Getting around Chicago can be pretty easy. Evanston has a network of bicycle paths as well in down town and around so you can basically get from Rogers Park to Skokie to Evanston and vice a versa with great easy. Some of the conditions of the streets are pretty bad in the older parts of Evanston but you can move around like a grid and they have alleys which is cool. In fact I love riding in the alleys in Evanston. You can find some amazing dumpster dive finds.
Over all we had an amazing day and even though I am probably leaving Chicago to taste the west, I love cycling around this part of Chicago particularly because of all the amazing architecture. People who have money have always lived in Evanston. The Oscar Mayer mansion is for sale despite being a total dump. Just rolling around Evanston is a treat and after a nice big meal, nothing beats pedaling around and looking at gigantic houses that I’ll never be able to justify owning. I mean literally, I could live in a studio apartment for the rest of my life and be completely happy. Not having to clean 20 rooms is great. I’d almost rather live in a Yurt on a huge parcel of land in the west. Amenities in the neighborhood are typically more important to me in the city and in the country it doesn’t matter if you have every little creature comfort. You forget about having cable television when you can hike up a mountain instead. This is why I’ll probably move to Colorado as soon as it’s financially possible. Chicago has an amazing landscape of buildings and nature is all around. At the same time the fact I almost never use more than one gear on my bike is kind of lame. I like climbing hills and descending in an aero position. Nothing will ever beat the the feeling I got riding my 30 year old Iron Man Dave Scott Master down from the top of the mountains in Colorado Spring this summer. It was a little hairy at times going so fast on 30 year old Matrix Rims and a Tange 1 frame handmade in Japan. The Cinelli drops were fucking gorgeous. I’ll never see that bike again because apparently my dad doesn’t have time in his busy retirement schedule to drive a bicycle to a store. Glad I only dropped $200 on it at a little bike shop called Bicycle Experience in Colorado Springs. The place is ran by a jolly old man and a cool dude named Bubba. I got some killer power straps and had hoped to whip that shit around Chitown. Maybe I’ll steal it back one day from my dad’s luxurious home in the hills of Colorado Springs. Till then I’ll be rolling around Chicago trying to find the next great deal in dining.
Bon Apetito, Tony Donutz