Thursday, July 19, 2012
Naf Naf Grill
Usually one week out of every summer, Hackknife Jr. has a summer school class that he takes via the youth gifted program called Leapfrog (sponsored by Northwestern U., an initiative mainly to groom future students, I imagine). Last year and this year, we had to load up the family truckster and drive to Naperville every morning so that he could attend his class, leaving Hackknifette and me (or sometimes just me if Grandma decided to watch the little one) with discrete chunks of time to explore Naperville's finer food offerings. Last year, we found gourmet cupcakes, but this time around, I wandered a little further afield to discover a European-style pastry and chocolate shop (Hackknifette and her dad are suckers for chocolate), an amazing spice supply store, a gentleman and his wife selling imported flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a steakhouse specializing in buffalo meat (courtesy of Ted Turner). Possibly my favorite spot, however, was located away from the crowded downtown streets of Naperville in a nondescript strip mall among lots of nondescript chain restaurants. Back in 2009, local foodie discussion board LTHForum.com named Naf Naf Grill, a casual Middle Eastern joint in Naperville rumored to offer very authentic Israeli dishes (something not commonly seen around here), to its list of "Great Neighborhood Restaurants" (typically a very reliable approval stamp for us frequent diners). With that designation in mind, I decided to hop on over for an early lunch one morning while waiting for class to conclude.
At 11a, I was the first to arrive after the staff opened the front door. My immediate impression was that this place is basically the Middle Eastern version of Chipotle, down to the decor (simple, loft-ish), menu (a limited number of dishes that can be easily customized to a particular diner's tastes), music (hip, youthful), and ethos (minimal environmental impact, culture sharing, high-quality ingredients, built to franchise). I started looking for a burrito bowl to order, but settled instead on a chicken shawarma (marinated chicken grilled on a rotating vertical spit, much like gyro meat) plate with fries (more like sliced potatoes), a simple Israeli salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light dressing, plus two pitas and complimentary sides of tahini, pickles, and hot pepper sauce. Although it was a bit pricey ($13), you can see above that got me a boatload of food, all of which (other than the fries, surprisingly, which were just mediocre) were really delicious. The chicken was lean and lightly seasoned - good by itself and heavenly when pressed between a piece of puffy pita (all of which are baked fresh onsite) and slathered with a bit of tahini. The hot sauce had a pretty solid kick to it, but added a nice flavor dimension to the chicken/pita combo. Even though it was earlier than my usual lunchtime, I managed to polish off everything on the plate, minus a few fries. Given the great experience, I'll be hoping for someone to franchise a Naf Naf in the Southwest Suburbs sometime soon...