First Bites: Giant Lima Beans at Chara

The new Greek place that replaced the old Greek place

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By David Hammond

Chara is the new Greek place that replaced Papaspiros, the old Greek place (now basically relocated across the street and to be called, when it opens, Agora).  Chara announces that it specializes in "Mediterranean Fare with Greek Flare," but one look at Chara's menu and it seems the line-up of food is pretty much the same as when the place was called Papaspiros.

That's both a good and bad thing.

It's kind of a bad thing, but only because it's another Greek place serving pretty much the same Greek food as every other Greek place you've ever been: taramosalata, skordalia, etc. There may be a few items on the menu of Chara that were not on the menu at Papaspiros, but basically, it's your standard greatest hit list of Greek grub.

It's definitely a good thing because one of my top three dishes of all time is fasolia gigantes, the giant lima beans. I wrote about these beans when they were served at Papaspiros.

I may actually like the ones at Chara just a little more than the ones that used to be served at Papaspiros (Chara seems to add more vegetable, like carrot and celery) – which proves, if anything, that even though Greek places have menus that are at least 75% identical to the menus at every other Greek place, some places just do it better. Plus, though Papaspiros charged $6.95 for a platter of these beans, Chara charges just $4.00.  The only way, however, to determine who makes the better beans is to do a side-by-side tasting, which I intend to do once Agora opens [Note: I've heard that the former Papaspiros chef is now cooking at Chara…which only proves, perhaps, that my favorite plate of fasolia gigantes is usually the one in front of me].

These giant lima beans are deemed so important to Greek culinary heritage that the European Union gives them a Protected Geographic Indication.  It's like Champagne for France: to be a genuine giant bean from Greece, certain specific criteria must be met.

For me, with some of the standard sesame-flecked bread and a glass of wine, a plate of fasolia gigantes is a good light dinner.

There's supposed to be a Greek coffeehouse moving into the old Caribou Coffee space at the corner of Lake and Oak Park Ave, joining Chara and Agora in what is becoming Oak Park's own little Greektown.

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