Dining and food culture in Chicago

Flavor Creator: Qutradullah Syed’s road to Bhabi’s Kitchen

Devon Street Desi, Indian No Comments »

By Ryan Wenzel

For a Saturday, business at Bhabi’s Kitchen is uncharacteristically slow. Few among the crowds traversing nearby Devon Avenue for weekend shopping have stepped into the Indian-Pakistani restaurant at 6352 North Oakley; two white couples are the restaurant’s only patrons. Small chandeliers soak the thirteen-table restaurant with yellow light. The walls—painted garishly in gold, orange and turquoise—are covered with decorations usually found at rummage sales: a wooden whale, a melodramatic oil print of the Brooklyn Bridge, a cheap plastic clock that can’t keep time.

Nonetheless, Qutradullah Syed, the 51-year-old proprietor, gives his disjointed establishment an urgent, professional feel. Dressed in a gray sweater, blue jeans and a black bucket hat, he circles the restaurant’s interior like a hawk. His eyes, rendered a piercing shade of blue by contact lenses, scan the restaurant. Everything must be perfect. He jogs over to the stereo in the corner and flips through Bollywood tracks. He runs to the opposite side of the dining area to tweak the light switches, ultimately deciding to dim the chandeliers. When he has created the ideal ambience, he approaches each table—often abruptly—to inquire about the food. Read the rest of this entry »