Sugar Rush: Baklava at Chicago's Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop
Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop doesn't have all the over-the-top Athenian accoutrements of some of its Greektown neighbors: no blue and white tile motif, no mural of the Parthenon, no flaming cheese served tableside. But what it does have is some of the best baklava in the city, a stack of seemingly dozens of layers of flaky phyllo that crack and wilt into one syrupy, nutty bite.
Since 1974, the Manolakos famliy has owned the tiny bakery, which barely has room for the long counter, trays upon trays of cookies, custards, and tartes, and a few two-top tables squished along the wall. On a Saturday morning, the orders are piling up, and busy but nonetheless smiling staff rush to keep up. From the kitchen doorway, Louis Manolakos looks on, his hands covered in flour.
Most folks are ordering the baklava, and for good reason. Each small diamond-shaped bar ($2.45) is deceptively complex. The delicate phyllo layers at the top are blonde and light, while chopped nuts cling to the lower layers, caught in the honey adhesive. It's spiced just right, with enough cinnamon to stand up to the sweetness. You can't eat these baklava too quickly, as each bite prompts you to think about just which spices you're rolling slowly around your mouth. As I scoop up the last flakes of dough with my fork and wash them down with a mug of strong coffee, I begin to wonder whether the Greeks didn't invent democracy just so we could all unanimously agree how good these pastries are.