A Jewel of a Falafel

Michael Nagrant / 10.30.08

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but for this hungry reviewer, nothing puts a glint in this serious eater’s eye like roast meat on a spit. I know because this afternoon I ignored a pharaoh’s ransom of gold and diamonds and ran straight for a rotating sizzling hunk of golden chicken schwarma.

Never having worked downtown, what I don’t know about Chicago Loop lunch could fill a handful of blog entries, and so I had to rely on my best friend Aamir, a regular Windy City skyscraper denizen, when we met for lunch today. Aamir is so discriminating and enthusiastic an eater that I’m pretty sure he’s the only non-pork eating person in the world that I’d still trust with the responsibility of feeding me well.

Aamir guided me through the dreary drizzle of a day, under the rusty girders of the elevated train tracks, and shuttled me in to the Jewelers Mall, a co-operative of jewelers hawking rows upon rows of anything that gleams. The shiniest thing though is the Oasis Café, a tiny lunch counter in the back of the mall. If you ever saw the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he goes to a café by the Rungis market where all the hard working blood-spattered butchers chow after a shift, Oasis is kind of like that, except instead of meat-merchants, you’re surrounded by Rolex salesman.

In addition to the schwarma spit, there’s griddled kebabs, roast chicken, and all manner of Middle-Eastern delicacy. Best of all, most of the selection outfitted with salad and pita provides a full meal for about $5.

Having gorged on a huge burger the night before and endured a case of the meat sweats, I decided to rock it out vegetarian style with the falafel plate. Bottom line: Seldom, except maybe at L’As Du Falafel in Paris, have I had better falafel. The plate was piled high with almost mahogany dark, deep fried chickpea balls. Crack them in half like a fresh doughnut hole and you’re rewarded with a puff of steamy cumin perfume and a coriander-infused, soft, verdant interior. Drizzle with a little tahini and hot sauce and serve. The pita and the salad only get in the way. Having recovered from my meat binge with a little fresh roughage, I look forward to coming back and finally taking a hunk out of that schwarma spit.

Oasis Café

21 N Wabash Avenue, Chicago IL 60602 (b/n E Washington Street and E Madison St;map)