The following article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on January 18, 2017.
Chicago welcomed a Kurdish restaurant to its ranks when The Gundis opened at the beginning of the month in Lakeview.
The Clark Street restaurant comes from a pair of Kurdish immigrants via Mardin, Turkey, who share the same first and middle names: Mehmet Besir Duzgun and Mehmet Besir Yavuz. After meeting five years ago, the Mehmets discovered they shared the dream of opening a Kurdish restaurant and have been planning one ever since.
“We’re really good friends, like brothers, who have similar stories and have had similar struggles,” Duzgun wrote in an email. “We want to serve Chicago our food, the food of our people.”
That food, Duzgun wrote, comes from recipes made in Kurdish homes throughout Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The basics of Kurdish food are similar to those of many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines — lamb, chicken, eggplant and yogurt are all staples — but dishes do distinguish themselves from other regional fare.
“Our food is spicier, it’s more citrusy, greasy in all the best ways, and involves a lot of bread,” Duzgun wrote. “Who doesn’t like bread?”
Dining at The Gundis is a communal experience. Diners all dig in to platters using bread pieces as utensils. Dishes like the Mardin special ($20), which usually features lamb or chicken wrapped in fried eggplant alongside bell peppers and a yogurt sauce, or the Mardin stew ($19), a hearty lamb stew that comes atop a bed of creamy, roasted eggplant puree, are ideal for sharing.
The restaurant’s weekend brunch is highlighted by Kurdish baklawa crepes ($11) — a baklava cousin made using pastry dough instead of phyllo dough, filled with goat cheese and topped with black figs in addition to the usual pistachios, walnuts and honey — and a “Kurdish breakfast for two” spread ($31-$35) that includes a soft egg-and-veggie scramble with sides of raw veggies with oil, fries and cheese slices.
The wine list, currently the only alcohol on the menu, includes selections from a widespread area. Duzgun hopes the restaurant can eventually serve Ava Zer, a Kurdish lager that has not yet been imported to the U.S.
The Mehmets have also had trouble acquiring Kurdish coffee and black tea, two favorites among Kurds. Unfortunately, the fraught political atmosphere in parts of the Middle East — including the presence of ISIS militant groups — can make importing popular food items extremely difficult, they say. Instead, The Gundis currently sources its tea and coffee from local Turkish and Arabic importers.
“Yes, we would have liked to serve authentic Kurdish tea and coffee, but it’s a luxury to serve that tea and coffee right now,” Denisse Gonzalez, creative director of the restaurant, said.
The Gundis is an inviting addition to its stretch of Clark Street: light, bright and spacious. Duzgun and Yavuz said they’re thrilled to join Chicago’s dining scene.
“Chicago is our home and it’s known for some of the best food in the country,” Yavuz wrote. “It just needs Kurdish food to be complete.”
The Gundis, 2909 N. Clark St., 773-904-8120, www.thegundis.com
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.