New modern Middle Eastern restaurant Fiya, the Andersonville spot that occupies the former Jerry’s Sandwiches space, is open for takeout, drinks, and patio dining. The restaurant is the realization of a long-held dream for owners and husband-and-wife team Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler — the pair have harbored a fantasy about bringing the laid-back atmosphere and diverse dishes they enjoy in Tel Aviv (where their daughter lives) and Jaffa to Chicago for some time.
Friedler and Bires, along with chef Liad Rozgovich, designed the opening menu under the assumption that everything would be to go, so they focused on items that were packaged or could travel well, like oven-roasted cauliflower (creme fraiche, zhug) and a massive za’atar chicken schnitzel sandwich (tahini, salad, pickle, amba). The team was surprised and pleased when the city began allowing patio seating just as Fiya’s doors were scheduled to open, says Friedler, so they plan to continue growing the menu with dishes better suited for dine-in patrons, such as a Moroccan-style fish.
“We are trying to bring some things that are a little bit different, like Moroccan cigars and khachapuri, which is Georgian,” says Friedler. “It’s food from the cultures of people who have made Israel their home.”
Neighborhood regulars appreciated Jerry’s vast beer selection, ownership decided to hang on to its taps and keep offering a robust menu of drafts and special bottles. Fiya also features a cocktail and spirits list, which makes ample use of Middle Eastern ingredients in drinks like the “Saz-arak” (rye, demerara, Peychaud’s bitters, arak) and a spicy “Zhug Martini” (gin, zhug water, dry vermouth, lemon, aquavit). Bires created the wine list, which is composed entirely of natural wines.
Other menu items include a smattering of salatim, small salad-y starters often served cold, like pickled vegetables and eggplant with tahini. Nearly everything comes with pita, baked fresh in an enormous Italian wood-burning oven stationed in the center of the indoor dining room (supplanting the room’s former centerpiece, a gas fireplace) and flanked by long white counters.
At full capacity, Fiya’s outdoor patio seats between 60 and 70, and staff have periodically set up a few tall, narrow bar tables along the restaurant’s wide-open front windows for patrons who are just looking for a drink. For the time being, diners come in and place their orders at the bar before staff lead them to the back patio space to be seated.
Staff will eventually offer table service, but for the time being, the focus is on minimizing possible exposure to coronavirus. Friedler isn’t sure when indoor service will resume and wants to keep her options open — she’s considering setting up a few tables in early July and seeing how it goes. Fiya is still offering food and drinks to go via Toast.
Andersonville is home to a number of popular Middle Eastern restaurants: Middle Eastern Bakery’s mashup “shawafel” wrap has inspired emotional tributes in print; Taste of Lebanon’s delightful lentil soup is an open secret in the area; Persian spot Reza’s and Mediterranean restaurant Andies are considered by many to be neighborhood institutions. Fiya aims to offer diners a broader and modern swath of options from a range of Middle Eastern countries, according to Friedler, touching on dishes and ingredients from Palestine, Iran, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria. It’s inspired by the approach Galit took in Lincoln Park with James Beard-winning chef Zach Engel.
“Israel is home to over 180 nationalities, and many religions including Jew, Muslim, Druze, Bahai, and Christian, so we know that the term ‘Israeli cuisine’ is subject to argument,” the owners note on the menu. “We like all of it.”
Jerry’s, known for craft beer and music, has made a name for itself in Chicago, with former locations in West Loop and Wicker Park. Friedler and Bires also own a Jerry’s location in Lincoln Square, along with neighboring coffeeshop Geraldine’s Cafe. Fiya’s hours are subject to change, so check out the website or call before making plans. Staff will start offering brunch on July 11.
Fiya, 5419 N. Clark Street, Open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.