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TODAY

Monday, February 18

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Airbags

I am standing on North Avenue looking through the windows of Sultan's Market and anticipating the task before me.

My mission is simple: I've made a bet with my friend that I could eat $7 worth of food at Sultan's in one sitting. I am well aware of the magnitude of this seemingly impossible challenge, not only because the prices at the Middle Eastern deli/convenience store are so affordable, but also because the portions are so very gigantic. Good thing I skipped lunch.

And it's a good thing, too, that I'm addicted to the food at Sultan's -- as are, apparently, the crowd of people standing in line at the counter waiting to order. Winning this bet is going to be fun as hell.

I should assure any skeptics of the task at hand that no matter the outcome of the bet, I will emerge the winner. Sultan's Market, with its cozy booths, lengthy salad bar, and colorful stacks of sundry Middle Eastern groceries, is a pleasant place to while away the mealtime hours on a chilly day. And devouring large quantities of the delicious, cheap eats -- all made from authentic recipes that owner May Ramli, who opened the place 12 years ago, brought with her when she emigrated here from Jordan -- is hardly a chore.

My friend follows me in and tries to hide his smile as I contemplate the choices listed on the menu. I order the most expensive sandwich -- the chicken shawerma pita -- and watch as the cook behind the counter lines a warm pita with creamy hummus, stuffs it chock-full of char-grilled chicken and red peppers, and tops it off with Jerusalem salad (diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and parsley swimming in tahini sauce and lemon juice). I also order a small container of the signature lentil soup. The pita is absolutely bursting with fresh ingredients, steam is rising from the homemade soup -- I can smell victory along with the falafel frying behind the counter.

But my confidence is shattered once I reach the register and Shadi Ramli (May's son), rings up my order; the bill comes to a whopping $6 and my friend snickers at my obvious disappointment.

Although I've fallen short of my monetary goal, I decide I must first consume the mountain of food before me, returning later to the counter to order more, and ultimately, prove my friend wrong. We take a seat in one of the few booths in the joint and I focus on the task before me.

Eating begins at a brisk pace: the soup (vegan), made with red lentils, red and green peppers, and onion, is served with a lemon wedge and an extra shot of chili paste if you so desire. I next move on to the mammoth pita and am about halfway through and thoroughly enjoying bite after bite of the lemony tahini sauce, fresh vegetables, tender grilled chicken, and, of course, Sultan's legendary hummus, when I notice an alarming fact: my stomach, sadly, can not keep up with my mouth's activity. I am too full to go on. My friend points to the remaining quarter of my sandwich that I have wrapped up to take home and begins laugh. Although my stomach is fully satiated and causing me a considerable amount of pain, I am not ready to concede defeat.

"One more chance?" I beg. "Let me try again tomorrow. I know I can do it."

And so, 24 hours later, I find myself back at Sultan's Market (alone this time), fully digested with my game face on.

This time I order the falafel pita -- my favorite meal at Sultan's. Since I seem to be in a gambling sort of mood, I would bet that Sultan's has the best falafel in the entire city -- perfectly fried falafel stuffed in a pita lined with the killer hummus and topped with the lip smacking Jerusalem salad. The best thing about the falafel pita? The $3 price tag, except if your name is Kim Conte and you are trying to win a bet. In an effort to exceed the $7 limit, I also order a pound of tabboule (fresh, tasty mixture of lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, cracked wheat, lemon juice and olive oil) with pita ($6), telling myself that if my stomach fails me once again, I could enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week.

Alas, I fear the ending to this story is anything but a mystery. I successfully ate the entire falafel but was so full, I could not even make a small dent in the tabboule and I was depressed when I had to save the remaining salad for the next day.

I called my friend to break the news of my failed conquest: it is absolutely impossible to eat $7 worth of food at Sultan's. In fact, $3-$4 will you get you by just fine. He wanted to know what he had won.

A free meal at Sultan's (less than $7), of course.

Sultan's Market is located at 2057 W. North Ave. Plans are underway for a new coffee/juice bar expansion. For a complete menu and list of groceries, visit them online at ChicagoFalafal.com.

GB store

Comments

Naz / December 21, 2003 11:32 PM

Rock on. A valiant effort. The lentil rice is also excellent. The small serving is a gut-buster as well. I salute you!

Audrey / December 22, 2003 2:47 PM

I am lucky enough to live across the street from Sultan's, and my broke grad-student ass has never starved with the lovely Ramli family feeding me cheap eats. Try the egg and cheese fettia (early in the day, when it's fresher) smeared with hummus and a wee bit of hot sauce for a yummy hangover helper.

Dan / December 24, 2003 11:12 AM

I sincerely must complain about the misleading nature of Ms. Conte's article. After reading her enthusiastic tale, my roommate and I rushed right over to try the market Monday evening. The food was good, but Real Eaters beware: $7 is a pretty high pole to limbo under - so easy! I ordered the chicken pita, a small portion of Jerusalem salad, and a can of coconut juice and my total was $10.38. I ate it all easily and had room for more in my stomach, but not wallet.

It seemed inconceivable that I would quench myself with seven bucks worth of grub. For readers' reference, objectively, on a scale of eating ability where a 10 is a buffet killer and a 1 is a 90 pound anorexic, I am probably about a 6, maybe 6.5. So I don't consider myself a huge eater, but I could easily take down the $7 challenge.

The pita was excellent, but the Jerusalem salad was unpleasantly bitter. I have no complaints about the can of coconut milk imported from Thailand, but the solid chunks of coconut did catch me off guard.

My report card on the Sultan's Market:
Food taste: C+ (pita was good, salad was mildly shitty)
Value: B- ($4 for the pita, and it really wasn't too full)
Service: A (personable)
Overall: B-

Scott / December 24, 2003 11:44 AM

Dan (the poster above) is my roommate. I got the falafel pita which as Kim said is $3, and tap water, I also stole some Jerusalem salad from Dan. My price tag was very low, and my pita was pretty good. I thought the cucumbers in the salad did taste a little less than fresh, but I still thought the salad was fine to eat. I had been contented by the meal, but if a bet was involved it would not have been hard to eat $7 worth. I do think Sultanís is a good cheep place to eat and would recommend it to people in the area.

Kim / December 27, 2003 11:18 AM

Hi Dan,

Thanks for writing! Apparently, I won't be challenging you to any eating contests in the near future. : )

Seriously, though, I'm not going to waste time comparing stomach sizes, and I know plenty of "Real Eaters" who would agree with my assessment of the portions at Sultan's. The point of my article was simply that you can get a shitload of food for a tiny amount of money and I stand by that.

Actually, I was entirely flattered that you read my article and ran right out to try it. I'm sorry you were disappointed, but I hope you won't be turned off from reading in the future.

Thanks!

holden / December 29, 2003 8:41 AM

i love this column! i have written down this restaurant & address to try this weekend when i visit my gf in chicago. i think the 'comments' following the article are a good thing too. it's good to hear some contrary opinions or additional comments. thanks!

Dan / December 30, 2003 2:21 PM

Sweeet.

payton / January 13, 2004 1:16 AM

I, too, live across from Sultan's (and down less than half a block), and I don't think I could eat $7 worth there. Getting a drink is cheating, IMO; note that it's $7 worth of "food."

I often have to resist the urge to buy hummus elsewhere, reminding myself that better hummus awaits practically right inside my own fridge.
- pc

shadi / March 6, 2004 3:21 AM

Dear Miss Kim Cante,
We at Sultan's Market would like to commend you for your noble attempt too win the $7 dollar bet.
We would also like too thank you for the great reveiw and all the people who wrote in, dan we'll find a way too make it up too you.

thank you!
Shadi Ramli

spa pura / May 18, 2004 12:31 PM

The food is great. It always seems to taste better when shadi is serving it up. mmmmmm.

 

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