Dillman's serves up deli fare in River North coffee bar atmosphere

September 27, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The massive matzo ball soup, griddled reuben on homemade rye bread and overflowing mound of cured and smoked whitefish salad splayed over an avocado would make you think you're in a deli. But Dillman's is going out of its way to say it's not a deli, because the décor alone would fool you, especially since there's no deli case.

"This is an all-day, casual coffee bar serving classic comfort food," said chef Mike Gil. "Food that your grandma would make. Some people's grandma would make."

Like my grandma, for instance. While she may have made sinkers, Gil's matzo balls - housed in a chicken-y rich broth - are of a different species altogether, topped with cippollini onions. Then there's his corned beef and top-notch pastrami, both made from brisket and brined for 10 days.

"The corned beef is then steamed; the pastrami is rubbed and smoked for 10 hours," said Gil.

And both of these meaty stars shine, along with bologna and a puck of foie gras, in a towering sandwich called "the Montreal." Good luck picking it up and fitting it into your mouth.

Other highlights include briny, pickled herring; plus a pot pie as rich and flaky as anyone's grandma's. Potato latkes are crisp and salty, served with the requisite sour cream and applesauce, and the homemade bagels with lox and cream cheese are as good as anywhere you'll find in Chicago. But that won't stop the debate.

"Because everyone kind of has their own opinion on everything, but we're just doing it the way we like it and hopefully everyone else likes it too," said Gil.

So even though there are massive bowls of matzo ball soup, large, two-fisted meat sandwiches and cured and smoked fish, Dillman's is not a deli. At least, officially speaking.

354 W. Hubbard St.

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