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Stripping the mall: Noli's Pizza, Secret Albanian

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Stripping the mall: Noli's Pizza, Secret Albanian

Mike G | Jul 2, 2003 03:59 PM

Monday Gary and I had lunch at Kang Nam, a Korean restaurant on Kedzie just north of Lawrence, in a little strip mall on the east side of the street. I am embargoed from discussing this meal until he captures the full, weepable glory of it, but seeing that the mall was chock full of interesting places, I have been back for lunch every day this week.

Yesterday I went to Al-Ameer, which has been written about here for its brick oven (which is plainly on display, looks like an igloo next to the grill). I will have to read the past posts on it because while what I had-- kefta sandwich and baba ghanoush-- was perfectly okay, it wasn't terribly memorable, and most critically it didn't seem to involve anything baked on the premises, which would seem to be the point.

Today, however, I went to a place which advertised itself as Noli's Pizza. Ordinarily I would assume this was a standard pizza by the slice place, likely resoundingly average, except that the word "Byrek" appears in the window. Assuming (correctly) that this was yet another ethnic variation on the Turkish borek, Greek bourekia, German bierock, etc., I went in.

And so began my game of "guess the nationality." To the unobservant, it would seem Italian, stereotypically so both in 90% of the menu (such Ital-American standards as Hawaiian pizza and spaghetti) and for the mural of Venice. Only a cryptic "Byrek $5.00" on the menu suggested otherwise. But looking around there were other clues-- bread for sale which looked exactly like what you'd get in a Turkish restaurant; strange soft drinks which turned out to be from Slovenia; baklava on the table where the owner and the waitress were sitting. Clearly they were Eastern European or even former USSR, but from somewhere with enough of an Italian influence that they felt like the logical thing to open in America was a pizza place.

Finally I spotted a newspaper-- Illantia, or something like that, "America's Only Albanian Weekly Newspaper." Chatting with them briefly, I asked if they served other Albanian items beside the byrek. "We hope to," was the answer. "Did you like?"

I did like. The byrek was a giant puffy thing, not at all empanada-like as German bierocks or even the Turkish ones can be, texturally halfway between bread and filo, stuffed with spinach and salty feta (they also offer beef and cheese), and quite irresistable while hot though unlikely to keep, I think. Maybe over time it will be joined by other Albanian items-- I can't remember if we've established any other Albanian restaurants, probably one or two somewhere along Lawrence, but with luck this will expand into one and convert a few pizza seekers along the way.

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