A La Turka: Turkish Kitchen

Katia Pavlyuk


Among dozens of Italian restaurants, Irish pubs and chain establishments in Lincoln Park and Lakeview, it’s truly a rarity to find a Turkish restaurant. Located steps away from the intersection of Lincoln and Belmont, A La Turka: Turkish Kitchen has become a Chicago staple for authentic Turkish cuisine and great entertainment. The restaurant’s engaging atmosphere makes its customers comfortable while celebrating all types of events, whether it’s a birthday party, romantic dinner or a leisurely night out with friends.

Despite the ongoing political debate on whether Turkey is a European or Middle Eastern country, A La Turka shows no such boundaries in its food. Specializing mainly in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, A La Turka strives to prepare the best foods from both worlds. The cuisine has been influenced by diverse culinary styles, some ranging from areas once encompassed by the Ottoman Empire. This restaurant brings together the different regions of modern Turkey with its eclectic fare.

Appetizing spread at A La Turka

My waiter Fatos said, “The Meza Platter is really popular dish, no one really knows for sure who came up with it, but it does have combinations of different Mediterranean appetizers from different cultures.” The Turkish Meza Platter is really a good way to introduce Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine for people who have never had this type of food in the past. This substantially sized dish gives patrons the opportunity to pick five individual appetizers from a wide selection for just $22. A popular choice is the Feta Cheese and Olive Platter. Although this dish looks very similar to the ones often served in Greek restaurants, this dish is served with Turkish feta cheese. Mediterranean Eggplant, Stuffed Grape Leaves and Humus are also possible choices for the platter. These appetizers are not exclusive to Turkish menus; they are featured on various Middle Eastern menus as well. The best thing about Turkish cuisine is its ‘flexibility’. It offers a wide variety of lamb, chicken and beef Kebab, but also carries rich vegetarian dishes that are often too tempting not to try.  A La Turka uses eggplant, peppers, zucchinis, toasted almond and Turkish kasari cheese to transform these vegetables into real food art. Eggplant Istanbul and Eggplant A la Turka are only two examples of these culinary masterpieces.

The restaurant is designed to really represent the diverse Turkish culture. “The furnishings are all imported from Istanbul,” Fatos revealed about the interior design. The ceilings are decorated by long sheets of canvas, which drop down creating the atmosphere of dining inside an old style Ottoman tent. There are also floor-sitting tables, which are very significant to the Turkish tradition; they are all decorated by embroidered pillows of Turkish design. The whole setting is softly lit, with a lot of flame lamps complimenting the red colors of paintings and brick walls. The floors of the restaurant are covered with authentic ornamented carpets, which make the restaurant look even more charming. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that A La Turka’s ambiance is always low-key and relaxing.

Authentic low-sitting tables

This restaurant becomes a huge spectacle during the weekend. One thing that contributes to its popularity is their weekly belly-dancing shows. Some of the most talented female dancers come to entertain the crowds. And this really does bring a whole new aspect to dining that many people have never been privileged to enjoy. The dancers give attention to every table, and the customers are always invited to join them in this traditional Turkish dance style. So don’t hesitate. Make a reservation and experience the Turkish culture at A la Turka: Turkish Kitchen first hand.

Check it out:

3134 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
(Belmont/Ashland/Lincoln Intersection)
http://www.alaturkachicago.com

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Published in: on 05/02/2010 at 5:05 PM  Leave a Comment  

Kuma’s Corner – “Best Burgers in Chicago”

A Distinguished Entrance to Kuma's Corner

Kelly Aarstad

Even after waiting a full hour for a table in a loud, congested pub, I’m excited when the hostess brings me to my table. I’ve been here before so I expect to stand at the bar and drink a couple more, but never have a problem welcoming the “quick” service. Because one thing is certain about Kuma’s Corner, and the food it offers, is well worth the wait.

Patrons of Kuma's Corner

Kuma’s Corner, is a heavy metal pub/restaurant that lives up to its reputation. Of all the burgers I’ve ever eaten, I’ve never had a burger quite like a Kuma-style burger. It’s a 10 oz. patty topped with quality ingredients that are carefully prepared, which has been chosen time and time again as the ‘Best Burger in Chicago’.

It’s not just the sizeable portions of meat that sets it apart. Every ingredient used is carefully chosen and of the highest quality, no shortcuts here. It’s the superiority of the products as well as the creative mixes of ingredients that put Kuma’s at the top of the list.

With over 22 variations of burgers to choose from, there’s no doubt that everyone’s going to have at least one favorite. This menu tends to change up regularly to keep its regulars on their toes. “We’ll be changing our menus in the summer; we’ll be dropping some burgers and adding some new ones.” said the waitress Jessica Deans about Kuma’s upcoming summer plans. There is no doubt that some of Kuma’s Corner burgers will be greatly missed by its regulars, on the other hand, however, the development of the new menu only suggests the creation of some new favorites.

The Slayer - Can You Find the Burger?

The burger I’ve come to love is the Slayer. As the menu describes it, it’s a “Pile of fries topped with a ½ lb. Burger, Chili, Cherry Peppers, Andouille, Onions, Jack Cheese, and Anger.” Anger is exactly what comes to mind when I see this monstrosity. It’s so awesomely overwhelming; you have no idea what angle to attack it from. “There’s so much going on with this burger, the whole meal is on the patty…I love it,” said regular customer Ryan Graham. But I should mention that if you wanted to personalize this beast or any of the other burgers, forget it. The way it’s described on the menu is the way it comes, so tough it out.

A lot of burgers on Kuma’s menu are a bit intimidating, both in name and size, but there is no need to be worried. There are plenty of other items on the menu that’ll fill you up. Take their BBQ Pork Fries for instance, a delicious heap of fries, piled with Monterey Jack and loaded with BBQ Pork. Even their soups  like their chicken noodle will put Mom to shame. They change their soups frequently but you can be assured they’ll be stocked with the finest ingredients.

Now, let’s talk beer. What other beverage could go better with a mean burger like the one you get at Kuma’s Corner than a cold one? They have a whole array of beers, ranging from all sorts of lagers and ales that call all sorts of places home, starting with Bavaria and ending with hometown Chicago. This time around, I’m having the Bavarian beer Schneider Weisse, which has a strikingly similar taste to bubble gum with an 8% ABV (Alcohol By Volume). Most of the beers available here have a high ABV. They even have the Colorado beer, Decadent Imperial that has an astounding 10% ABV. You can be sure that all of these beers have astounding tastes. And for those of you who like your good ol’ PBR(Pabst Blue Ribbon), it’s available as their macrobrew.

Along with all the great beer they have to offer, they have a fully stocked bar. For all the whiskey drinkers out there, they even have Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve on tap!

Glimpse From Behind the Bar

While you’re letting your food digest and knocking back a couple brews, you can take in the atmosphere. While listening to rock bands like Black Label Society, Meshuggah, and My Dying Bride, you can check out all the paraphernalia that decorates the heavy metal pub. You’ll find Kuma’s mascot, The Bear, everywhere throughout the bar. There are paintings of bears, statues of bears, and even heads of bears (no, not real bear heads). Accompanying the bear are guitars, skateboards, and even paintings of vampire bondage chicks. The pub itself is surrounded by pale yellow walls and has wooden hardware and tables. Giving it that old school feel with a heavy metal edge.

The wait may be long, but the good booze should be enough to hold you over until you’re able to sink your teeth into a juicy burger. If ground beef isn’t your choice of meat they also offer boneless chicken breasts, garden burgers, and chicken tenders as a substitute. Unfortunately, vegans are out of luck. Food starts at $7 and beer begins at $5 (with the exception of PBR at $3). For both quality and quantity in food paired with a great beer or spirit, check out Kuma’s Corner.

Check It Out:

Kuma’s Corner

2900 West Belmont

773.604.8769

www.kumascorner.com

Johnny O’Hagan’s

Outside of Johnny O'Hagan's Irish Pub

Lindsey Arquilla

Hidden beneath the Brown Line El tracks is a proud and distinguished Irish pub, Johnny O’Hagan’s. Ever since  I can remember, when asked what nationality I am, I have always quickly responded, “Italian.” As soon as I would give that answer, I would realize that that isn’t the whole truth. Especially when my mother would always be there to remind me saying, “You’re Irish, too!”

To say that I grew up strongly priding myself, and my family, in our Italian roots would be an understatement. I was raised by a father who has an assertive and ambitious Type-A personality, who is practically fresh-off-the-boat Italian-American.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Irish heritage, but it’s difficult to recognize that segment of my background when every Saturday and Sunday morning of my life I have been woken up by blaring Italian music and television programs. Sure, my mother enrolled my sisters and I in Irish dance classes—we even danced in Chicago’s South Side Irish Parades (Which will be dearly missed). Somehow, though, the Italian side always outweighed the Irish.

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, I knew I wanted to feature Irish food, but had no idea where to start. With the assistance of my good Irish friend and copy editor Jess Geiger, we spent weeks seeking out the best Irish spot in the city, until we found Johnny O’Hagan’s.

Located at 3374 North Clark Street, O’Hagan’s is Wrigleyville’s favorite Irish Restaurant and Pub. Since I have been to maybe three Irish pubs in my life, I really had no idea what to expect. The moment Jess and I, along with a mutual friend, walked in, we knew it was going to be a good time.

Author Lindsey Arquilla with Owner/Manager Coley Newell

The place was packed, so packed that we could not find enough chairs for all of us to sit down. After asking the bartender if he could grab us another chair, I let him know that we would like to speak with him and the manager or owner, if they could spare a few minutes. By the time I got back to the knee-high wooden table, the manager, Coley Newell, was already waiting graciously there to talk with us.

Although the pub was very loud due to the huge crowd, the conversation was successfully entertaining. I managed to hear Newell say, “I’ve been here ten years and when I go out drinking with the guys—this is where I come.” And I had no problem seeing why. Upon entering, it was as if I traveled to Ireland and sat down in a local pub for a pint (which I later learned is equivalent to a regular draft size glass of beer). The atmosphere of O’Hagan’s alone is enough to hook some true, and even not-so true, Irishmen.

Interior of O'Hagan's

The restaurant, which has been in Wrigley for a solid ten years, is filled with employees from Ireland.  Not just Irish, but actually from Ireland; Irish brogues (accents) and all. We were able to learn a lot about the native country simply by having some friendly chats with our server, Lynn O’Neill. After moving to Chicago in October of last year, O’Neill didn’t have trouble deciding where she would seek out a job. “The bar is named after a guy from my hometown,” she told us. O’Hagan is originally from Buncrana, Ireland, just like new employee, O’Neill . After sharing all about what it’s like “back home,” O’Neill admitted to favoring Chicago over Ireland.

Jess Geiger with server Lynn O’Neill

Jess Geiger with Server Lynn O’Neill

After spending time talking to O’Neill about Irish culture, she then introduced us to the menu items which consist of a mix of American, English and Irish foods. We learned that some of the most popular dishes at O’Hagan’s are the Fish n’ Chips and the Irish Breakfast. The Irish Breakfast is a rather extensive dish -consisting of rashers (otherwise known as bacon in America), sausages, eggs, black and white pudding, batchelors beans, grilled tomato and fried spuds and toast, which is served during primary hours of operation.

The Irish Breakfast with a Pint of Guinness

“The Burgers…I have to stop myself from ordering one every night!” said O’Neill about her favorite item on the menu. They might be good, but their price is even better: $5.95 for a burger and a plate full of wedged fries. Everyone knows that in this city, you can’t beat that!

With O’Hagan’s putting everyone in high spirits, getting complimentary feedback from customers was an easy task. A family nearby lit up when I asked them why they fancy O’Hagans over any other Irish spot in the city. Regular customer Grainne O’Mailley told me, “I’m an Irish-American and I can always come in here and talk with people who are from Ireland.” Looking at her face, full of Irish pride as she basked in her element at O’Hagan’s, for the first time in my life I began to understand the Irish culture. It wasn’t about the ridiculous South Side Irish Parade antics, or the Irish Car Bombs served at virtually every bar in Chicago. It’s about the people and the love of life and the excitement of sharing it with others. After all these years, I finally started to recognize my Irish heritage.

As we sat in our wooden booth, sipping our pints of Guinness and snacking on Americanized Irish fries and curry, we were also able to soak up some live entertainment from the Irish band “Shindig”. Shindig performed a set filled with fierce Irish brogues, instruments and sound. After toasting our shots of O’Hagans signature Irish liquor, Jameson Irish Whiskey, I glanced around the pub one last time before we closed out our tab and heard Jess say, “I just texted my mom that I have never felt so Irish.” Our thoughts were in sync.

Whether looking for a chill night with good people and great lager or a meal unique to this city that will keep you salivating for Irish grub for days, Johnny O’Hagan’s is where it’s at. Experience St. Patrick’s Day 2010 like none before and follow the rainbow to Chicago’s North Side where the pot of gold resides at Johnny O’Hagan’s.

Check It Out: Johnny O’Hagan’s

3374 North Clark Street

http://www.johnnyohagansirishpub.com/