For nearly a decade, curious Chicagoans have been walking by the mysterious restaurant under construction at a bustling Logan Square intersection. They wonder if it will actually open, what it looks like inside, why it has taken so long to build.
And while owner Shadi Ramli (Sultan's Market) still isn't ready to set an opening date for Masada (the last report was a touch premature, he says, and will open to the public "within a couple weeks"), you can now see every nook and cranny of his intricate long-awaited Middle Eastern palace.
From the moment you walk through the front gate and up to the host stand filled with Middle Eastern jewelry, you will be stunned by every ornate detail, carving, and light fixture in the fascinating self-designed and self-funded space.
The ground-floor dining room circles around a cut-out that overlooks the downstairs lounge and stage to a wall of family photographs that's opposite a fireplace. Exit to the left to walk through the three-tiered patio, accessible via a series of climbing metal staircases along a brick wall adorned with grapevines, that ends high above.
Back inside, walk down a beautifully tiled stairwell to the downstairs lounge, main bar and stage. Don't miss the series of artist-photoshopped celebrity photos in Arab garb, such as Snoop Dogg, George W. Bush, and Mr. Spock. "I put them there for a reason," Ramli says. "To show people they've been programmed to hate Arabs."
Ramli bought the building more than 10 years ago and worked on it when he had extra money and time ("a chair here, a fixture there"). Even though the food is Middle Eastern, he wants Masada to be a "world restaurant that unites people. Festive but not over the top with a little glam but still some earthiness to it."
Ramli and his mother, who the restaurant is named after and is contributing most of the recipes, live on-site. The final stage is cutting down the 60-plus-item menu to something more manageable.
After wading through a decade of bureaucratic red tape and funding issues, Ramli's palace is completely built. Stay tuned to find out the official opening date.
· Masada [Facebook]