Though Evanston may have its fair share of classic baked goods, you’ll need to take a trip to Chicago to try any out-of-the-ordinary sweet treats.
Which is what I did when I wanted to sample some Middle Eastern pastries. Upon the recommendation (and drool-worthy description) of these treats from my Arabic professor, I boarded the “L” towards the city in search of these syrupy treasures. After about an hour, the train finally spit me out in the Northwest neighborhood of Albany Park. Strolling down North Kedzie street, with Mexican and Guatemalan restaurants on my right and Middle Eastern restaurants on my left, the smell of phyllo and pistachios told me I had finally reached my destination: the renowned bakery Nazareth Sweets.
Nazareth offers a wide array of Middle Eastern pastries at extremely affordable prices — $15 can get you enough delicious desserts to last a week! But if you’re not too knowledgeable about these ethnic desserts (hey, I wasn’t before either), here’s a guide to the best treats of the Middle East:
Coconut, semolina oil and syrup. These are the keys to true and unending happiness, and Nazareth Sweets knows it. Crumbly and sweet, harissa is a melt-in-your-mouth treat that will leave you with a warm feeling and a craving for more.
2. Almond Fingers
One bite into an almond finger and you’ll realize that you’ve never truly experienced dessert as it was meant to be. Combining finely ground almonds, flakey phyllo dough and thickly-glazed syrup, almond fingers are way too easy to eat. Once you factor in the extremely low price, these pastries are dangerously accessible and addictive — please eat responsibly.
3. Pistachio Baklava
Prior to visiting Nazareth Sweets, I only knew baklava as the thick, sticky bricks my great-grandmother used to make when we visited. But everything changed the moment the light, slightly sweet and salty baklava square crumbled in my mouth. Even if you’ve never been a fan of baklava, this version might make a believer out of you yet.
Despite being soaked in syrup, ballouria still manages to secure its spot as the only savory dessert within the ranking. While the pistachios in this pastry are beyond reproach, the shredded wheat coating is definitely an acquired taste (but nevertheless reminiscent of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal). This pastry is maybe best saved for a midnight snack.
5. Bird’s Nest
Whatever bird made this nest probably has diabetes, because it is packed full of gooey syrup and sweet almonds. Though presumably made to be finger food, a bird’s nest is best eaten with a fork and knife unless you want your hands and mouth stuck together with sticky almonds and phyllo. This treat is almost too sweet to be enjoyed in one sitting, so make some friends and share the love.
Rings are a sort of outcast in the Middle Eastern pastry family. Tougher than your typical phyllo dough treat and with pistachios clustered in the center, rings appeal to those looking to separate pistachios and dough in their tasting experience. While I prefer a more integrated pastry, rings are perfect for the pistachio-lover who doesn’t mind working for it.
Perhaps the most popular Middle Eastern treat, this sweet cheese pastry might confuse newcomers’ tongues. The only way to describe knaffeh is to imagine a blintz covered in syrup, except that it is savory and crunchy. If you can imagine that, then you should consider taking my job since I’ve tasted knaffeh and can’t imagine that. Anyone planning a visit to Nazareth Sweets should definitely pick up a square of knaffeh, if only for the experience.
Despite the long train ride, I plan on returning to Nazareth Sweets. After all, no matter how long the trip home takes, I’ll have plenty of treats to keep me company.
Need some sweets to hold you over until you can make the journey to Nazareth Sweets?