Bucktown cafe turns sandwich into more

May 29, 2009 (CHICAGO) According to the Hungry Hound, a new cafe in West Bucktown is elevating the ingredients, turning the sandwich experience into something much more.

How hard is it to make a great sandwich? Freshly-baked bread is obviously key, but so are the ingredients between the slices: beef and turkey roasted in house, homemade spreads, artisanal cheese. It's all a matter of how much effort - and expense - you want to invest. Fortunately, the Birchwood kitchen keeps the quality high, and the prices reasonably low.

By design, sandwiches are not intended to be labor intensive. But at the bright and comfy Birchwood Kitchen in West Bucktown, the sandwiches are the result of months of research and development. They make up the bulk of the menu.

"We do cafe, carryout and catering," said Jason Ball, of Birchwood Kitchen. "They can sit down, have a cup of coffee and a sandwich, but at the same time, take some fresh mozzarella that was made this morning home, or a great seasonal salad that we just made, and take a little home to have later," he said.

Dough from Red Hen and Labriola bakeries arrive daily, so they can be baked-off fresh; roast beef is made in-house, sliced thin, then layered with aged cheddar, garlic-roasted tomatoes, spinach and mustard on thick slabs of sour dough. Firm ciabatta loaves provide a solid base for an earthy celery root cream, thin slices of Iowa smoked prosciutto, called speck, are carefully arranged over the cream, then Ball tosses some celery stalks and greens with truffle oil, mounding them on top of the speck, before slicing the sandwich and serving it with crunchy potato chips. From the "hot" side of the menu, a slow-simmered lamb "French dip" is generously mounded onto toasted baguette, followed by handfuls of tart, pickled red onions. A few ounces of the braising liquid arrive alongside. Like most options here, it's less than ten bucks.

"We were very strict on our price points, and we wanted to be able to provide that, with the quality still there. So we want to be able to roast our own turkey breast, but also sell a turkey sandwich that's not ten dollars," Ball said.

Even grilled cheese is elevated to new heights: thick sour dough is slathered with a spicy dijon and a thin layer of sweet, caramelized onions; a few slices of cave-aged gruyere provide that cheesy richness, and after a few minutes in a panini press, the ingredients harmonize, creating a grown-up version of a childhood favorite.

Side salads are also made in-house, and desserts come from Evanston's Sugar & Spice Bakery. But it's the sandwiches that will have you seeking out this hidden gem along West North Avenue.

"We wanted to be a little bit interesting, and use cool techniques, but not anything too out there. I think one of the main things that we really try to do is be approachable," said Ball.

Another new upscale sandwich option has just opened in Boystown, on North Halsted. It's called Wally and Agador's Gourmet Cafe, and it comes from the chef who owns restaurant Michael in Winnetka.

Birchwood Kitchen
2211 W. North Ave.

Also mentioned:
Wally & Agador's
3310 N. Halsted

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