Rumi Grill a tasty treat in Wicker Park

Owners, visitors, and even prospective visitors are buzzing with energy in anticipation of the opening of the new “Rumi” Middle Eastern Grill on N. Milwaukee in Wicker Park. All players in the Rumi equation deserve a lot of credit. Well, the owners especially—considering the prospective drunk 20-somethings who will come abrasively stumbling in at midnight accosting them for “Mediterranean” food– whatever the hell that means.

The space itself is huge, and I imagine wonderful for big groups. Designed simply and without pretension, it’s a calm atmosphere with quiet tech hip-hop playing in the background, fitting right in with the neighborhood’s late night vibe.

The service at Palestinian-owned Rumi is a genuine Chicago real.

The owners are constantly welcoming. The bathrooms are gender nonspecific. The glass between the customer and the servers is a little too high for communication, but that’s only a reflection of the staff’s warmth, charm and personality. “I feel like we played ball”, said a worker to me. I haven’t played ball in years. “Maybe!” I said. I wasn’t lying.

I recommend the “Rumi plate” which comes with rice, a choice of meat and a plethora of side options at no additional price. The rice, while a little dry, is plenty in portion. The skewer chicken is tender with the right amount of crisp, and doesn’t overpower the sides. And they are special sides, perhaps the best part of the dish.

I paired my chicken with a hefty Turkish yogurt salad, seasoned raw onions and green olives, parsley and homemade garlic and hot sauces, which took first place. The Jerusalem salad is the weakest of the bunch, but with the limitless selection I had much more to choose from.

The falafel, served hot, as it should be served, has a thick coat but a nice seasoning and is not overpowering in size.

The baklava, packed with a little too much syrup, does have a nice savory finish. The lentil soup, served piping hot, is pleasant, but needs a little salt.

Every now and then, one of the older workers at Rumi gracefully steps out for a smoke, adding a little kindness of heart to that whirlwind cesspool that is Wicker Park.

Rumi makes an unintrusive place in the gentrified west side neighborhood and does so unashamedly. It’s Middle Eastern. And if the “urban colonists” refuse to go, we are reaffirmed of their racist food bias. Biases.

Dylan Matthews

Dylan Matthew has had his plays performed at Light Night Teatro Vista and DePaul's Wrights of Spring festival of New Work. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Grappler, a weekly Chicago theatre publication. He writes and performs around the city.

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