When you think of Midwestern sandwiches, there's the Indiana pork tenderloin, the Detroit Coney Dog and the Quad Cities' loose meat sandwich from Maid-Rite, to name a few. Chris Cunningham was inspired by all of them, as well as a few sandwiches from outside of our region to create a unique sandwich shop on the Northwest Side where quality ingredients are the mandate.
You've no doubt seen fried chicken sandwiches around town lately, but the ones from J.T.'s Genuine Sandwich Shop in Irving Park seem to have a different spin to them. Thighs are brined in buttermilk; the buns get buttered and lightly griddled; there is maple chipotle mayo on each side and crunchy dill pickle adds some acidity. It's like this for everything at J.T.'s, the brainchild of Chris Cunningham, who opened the shop based on regional specialties.
"Particularly the Midwest region," Cunningham said.
So his Indiana roots play out in a sandwich he remembers from his childhood.
"We're bringing a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich that comes from the pork loin. We pound it out, tenderize it with buttermilk brine then bread it a panko breadcrumb and Saltine cracker mix," he said.
The oversized tenderloin sits between buns that have mustard on one side, mayo on the other, as well as shredded lettuce, shaved onion and pickles. Cunningham's wife is from Michigan, so naturally, they had to offer a Detroit Coney Dog, steamed or grilled.
"It's got a beanless chili specific to the Detroit area, that's finished with yellow mustard and yellow onions," said Cunningham.
There are two burgers on offer; the JT's Special combines two Angus patties with caramelized onions, cheddar, pickled granny smith apples, bacon and dijonaise.
From Philadelphia, Cunningham recreated the Pork Italian, a fantastic sandwich rarely, if ever, seen here, with a base of provolone set into a sturdy sesame roll.
"It's a roast Italian pork loin that we put a honey and roasted garlic glaze on. We shave that real thin in the style of an Italian beef that we're familiar with in Chicago, and finish that with a grilled rapini and a quick dip in our pan jus," he said.
There are snacks and salads, soups and chili, with the JT's chili being the standout.
"Ground beef, black and red beans, we use a little chipotle pepper, some cold brew coffee, lager beer; then we top it with shredded cheddar, Fritos corn chips, cilantro, serrano peppers, sour cream, it's loaded up it's delicious; it'll warm you up in the winter," said Cunningham.
In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at another sandwich on the menu, this one for dessert: an ice cream sandwich set between homemade cookies.
J.T.'s Genuine Sandwich Shop
3970 N. Elston Ave.