CHICAGO — Chef Zach Engel won a James Beard Foundation award for his work at Shaya, an Israeli restaurant in New Orleans. Now he’s in Chicago, offering up food from throughout the Middle-Eastern region at Galit, which opened at the beginning of April in Lincoln Park.
Galit seats about a hundred or so diners at free tables, L-shaped banquettes and a counter that overlooks the open kitchen. Sit at the counter if you can, and enjoy the kitchen action, and the aromas coming from the wood-fired oven and open-fire hearth.
This is serious cooking, but not without a sense of humor. Cocktails are well-made but come with pun-ny names, such as the rum, mango and lime drink dubbed “Here Lassi Lassi,” served improbably in a skull-shaped glass.
You’ll begin with hummus, because everybody does; there are four varieties, including this masabacha, in which the chickpea spread surrounds a lake of olive oil and an island of herbed tahini topped with ground Aleppo pepper.
Don’t forget to order the side salads, or salatim, which arrive in a group and include labneh with hyssop and sumac, cippolini onions with crumbled feta cheese, molasses-drizzled turnips, and ezme, which is a thickened tomato-pepper jam. They’re served, of course, with fresh-from-the-oven pita bread.
Sides and main courses are cooked, partly or completely over hot coals. Do try the roasted beets, served with black garlic and tehina and topped with bits of toasted pumpernickel. Orange- and cumin-glazed carrots are nicely balanced by bits of Bulgarian feta.
Kubbeh halab are essentially croquettes of seasoned lamb, served with a spiced raisin-almond spread; and a crispy-skinned chicken thigh sits on a bed of whipped feta, alongside harissa and peas.
Shakshuka is fun to say and just as much fun to eat. Underneath that blanket of fresh herbs is a skillet dish of eggs and coal-roasted sweet potatoes, swimming in a bright tomato sauce and served with laffa bread.
It would be a shame to skip dessert, especially when you can go light with the $3 dollar krembo, a chocolate-covered bite of marshmallow and sesame shortbread; it’s like a sophisticated moon pie. Larger sweets include kanafeh, a shredded-phyllo cake topped with strawberries, white chocolate and carob molasses.
I give Galit, 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue, three stars. Make plans well in advance to visit this very popular restaurant, because reservations, especially weekend tables, disappear fast.