Döner Kebab Fever Strikes Lincoln Park

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America can be lonely for true fans of the döner kebab, a specialty that dates back to the mid-19th century and popularized when a Turkish immigrant began selling it as a sandwich in the early 1970s in Berlin.

The döner shares similarities with gyros, already a longtime Chicago favorite. Along with shawarma, the sandwiches or platters feature seasoned lamb, beef, or chicken carved from a rotating spit. They’re a delicacy in parts of Europe, a delight for street food fans, and the salvation for the late-night bar crowd.

Chicago isn’t without döner options, but Edin Sarancic felt the city could do better. Sarancic has spent nearly three decades in restaurants and is known for Piccolo, a restaurant in West Ridge. He and his son, Dino, also opened Pivo Beer Spa in Noble Square.

After a trip to Europe, the older Sarancic brainstormed an idea for a döner stand, and that’s how Döner 97 was born. The restaurant opened in mid-April at 2435 N. Clark Street. It’s been a game-changer for Chicagoans yearning for a taste of beefy-lamb or chicken goodness.

Dino Sarancic is mindful that folks are passionate about döners. He doesn’t want to amplify anyone’s feelings when it comes to addressing the authenticity of his restaurant. He ambiguously mentions his family is Balkan, saying the restaurant isn’t attempting to zero in on a particular region in terms of döner tradition (however, the online menu does mention Germany). The cone is a combo of beef and lamb. It’s a proprietary blend that Dino Sarancic won’t get into, though he says the meat is certified organic. He did say the bread, which is griddled in a sandwich press, is a custom order, The texture and shape are key. Most places use a triangle, but that’s too small, Dino Sarancic says. Doner 97’s bread is shaped like a half circle which provides more real estate: “I would say we spent literally two entire weeks just to figure out the bakery,” Dino says.

Edin Sarancic

The restaurant also serves red lentil soup and Turkish stuffed baked potatoes, or kumpir. They’re stuffed with butter, mozzarella, sour cream, carrots, red cabbage, peas, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs, then drenched with Doner 97’s white garlic sauce. Dino Sarancic says they imported a special oven from Turkey to bake the potatoes perfectly.

The restaurant’s role is different than those in Europe. They’re not open late — the Wieners Circle, down the street, can handle those shenanigans. But perhaps they’ll expand hours in the future. Where does the “97” come from? Dino Sarancic says it just sounded cool to him, but it’s also the year his sister, Ena, was born.

Walk around the space below.

Doner 97, (773) 698-6324, 2435 N. Clark Street

These baked potatoes, or kumpir, are a Turkish specialty.

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