November 3, 2003

Greektown gem pleases the palate

With its celebrated Taste of Chicago food festival in the summer, and an enormous amount of restaurants, Chicago is arguably one of the cuisine capitals of the country, if not the world. Whether you hunger for Italian pasta, Chicago's own deep-dish pizza, or slightly more eclectic entrees such as kabanosy, a type of Polish sausage, you'll find it in Chicago.

Of course, the sheer plethora of choices is enough to have you cowering in your dorm room Saturday night or settling for the ease of a late-night Subway run when the dining halls are closed. If you feel like you're starting to have an intimate relationship with the delivery guy from the Snail, it's time to think outside Hyde Park to the hundreds of other restaurants in Chicago.

I recommend you try Rodity's. Located in Greektown at 222 South Halsted Street, Rodity's has been serving traditional Chicago Greek cuisine since 1972.

On Saturday night, my friends and I headed to Greektown via CTA with nebulous plans of eating there but no reservations anywhere. It was a simple matter for us to catch the #6 Jackson, get off at the Art Institute, cross to the opposite corner of the street, and walk to Adams and Wabash to catch the #126 bus, which took us to Van Buren Street and Halsted.

When we arrived in Greektown, we wandered down Halsted looking for Athena. Unfortunately, the wait was nearly an hour, far too long for my party of drooling college students. We left Athena with the building dread that we would end up eating at the local Taco Burrito King amidst a crowd of policemen.

The possibility of having our only taste of Greektown be the delicious smells wafting out of every doorway goaded us into action. We ducked into Rodity's hoping the wait was reasonable. Rodity's doesn't take reservations on Friday or Saturday nights, but there is a waitlist for tables (and you can make reservations Sunday through Thursday at 312-454-0800). The bar area was crowded and smoke-filled (one of our few complaints), so we ended up wandering the streets of Greektown while we waited for our name to come up.

Rodity's is a boisterous, vibrant restaurant decorated with beautiful Greek murals, where the waiters stand near the tables with flaming plates of appetizers (sometimes as many as seven or eight stacked like dominoes along their arms) and the hearty cry of "oompah" goes up from the neighboring tables with a smile-worthy regularity.

The menu reads like the index of a traditional Greek cookbook. Along with the gyros and hummus were items such as octopus salad and braised lamb. Our waiter supplied us with fresh, crusty sesame bread while we looked over the menu. I was in an adventurous mood and ordered the pastichio, which can best be described as Greek lasagna, while the three other people in my party ordered moussaka (a rich layering of lamb, cheese, pasta, and vegetables), octopus, and chicken.

When rating a restaurant, there are many things to consider, but as a starting measurement, I've always used my mother's tactic: how quickly and how often the waitstaff refills water glasses. As someone who empties water glasses at a more than respectable rate, I have to say Rodity's was excellent on the water-glass scale. Our waiter didn't even let our breadbasket empty before he slid us another loaf.

Above and beyond the water-glass test, the speed with which our meals were served was nothing short of amazing. About 10 minutes after we ordered, our waiter was setting plates in front of us. Both the moussaka and the pastichio were hearty pasta dishes that didn't need sides, while the chicken and octopus both came with vegetables.

We were pleasantly full by the time we finished, but none of us could leave without at least trying dessert. We ended up with three orders of Rodity's chocolate cake and one of baklava that rivaled anything available in Hyde Park and maybe even Greece. Rodity's signature chocolate cake¬ócomplete with the restaurant's name daintily decorating the top of each slice¬ówas a very rich concoction of cake and mousse-like cream layered together. Only one of the three of us finished a full piece. The baklava, a traditional Greek dessert, was an insanely sweet mixture of honey, nuts, and pastry dough. We ate it all.

Once we'd eaten as much as dessert as we could possibly manage and paid our bill (which came to under $20 a person, including tax and a 20 percent gratuity for the wonderful service we received), we headed home, feeling inordinately pleased with ourselves for stumbling upon such a treasure.