Many of the restaurants line along the bustling strip of Devon Avenue serve Halal-inspired cuisines. But if you are looking for something with Eastern European and Middle Eastern flair in a halal restaurant, there is one option nestled in the heart of Rogers Park just four blocks east of the Morse CTA station.
Like many ethnic restaurants, Tostini, 1622 W. Morse, is family owned. In this case, though, the family is Polish and Turkish. Each side brings their traditional recipes to the menu – hence the Polish-Turkish fusion concept.
From the Polish side, customers can indulge in a bowl of tomato soup flavored with chopped dill leaves to add a dash of fresh herbal flavor. From the Turkish side, they can grab a sujuk and cheese tostini filled with slices of dry, spicy Turkish beef sausage along with tomato, sauces and grated cheese.
Tostini, which opened mid-September of this year, prides themselves in preparing authentic Turkish sandwiches which are a Turkish equivalent of a panini sandwich. All tostinies are served on this type of bread.
“A lot of these are panini type of sandwiches. In Turkey, they call them ‘tost’,” said Anna Wypych, owner of Tostini. “But the bread is different. It’s not your typical panini bread. It’s like a flatbread, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean style of flatbread.”
Everyday, freshly-made batches of grilled meat are griddled and serve as an essential ingredient for some of these sandwiches. This is what Wypych said makes Tostini 100 percent halal, suitable for Rogers Park’s Muslim population who adhere to Islamic dietary law.
Tostini griddles the flatbread until lightly toasted to give it a great crispy chew, a common method used in Turkey. It is then sliced down the middle and filled with their staple variations of cheese or tomato
Their kofte and potato tostini embraces this cultural method, for example, but gives them an extra twist that infuses Wypych and her husband’s heritage. A regional sandwich of where her husband grew up, its meatball filling is first ground beef molded into balls, then it is grilled into meatballs and stuffed inside. Melted cheese accompanies it. Ketchup and mayo are drizzled all over and finished with a sprinkle of authentic spices. The two distinct cultures are involved when adding their twist of cooked green cabbage and mashed potatoes in the mix to elevate the sandwich.
“The Polish comes in where you have potatoes… The cabbage salad, that’s very much a Polish thing as well as a Turkish thing. We both eat cabbage a lot,” said Wypych.
While eating one of their sandwiches, you don’t want to overlook their creamy homemade lentil or tomato soup which plays well as a warm compliment. Afterwards, you can treat yourself to one of their three gelato flavors — blueberry, nutella and crème brûlèe — made with real cane sugar from Italy, to satisfy your fruit and sweet cravings. Desserts such as baklava and bundt cake fresh out the oven are also a great substitute. Beverage options include coffee and Turkish tea, as well as imported beverages such as soda, juice and mineral water.
Growing up in Rogers Park, Wypych acknowledges the neighborhood is host to a predominantly Muslim community but continues to diversify with other ethinicites. Like any business amid such diversity, it made perfect sense for her to open Tostini here and offer a menu that connects across cultures while introducing new food concepts.
This speaks to Wypych’s goal of providing a different option while sticking to Halal for the diverse clientele entering Tostini’s doors. She hopes the diversity will help flourish Tostini’s cross-cultural appeal.
“It’s a community of mixed incomes, community of mixed diverse cultures,” said Wypych. “I hope that this place succeeds in this community.”