Exhausted from walking the Magnificent Mile, we were thrilled to find ourselves at Grahamwich, the perfect lunch spot just 3 blocks west of Chicago’s answer to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Grahamwich is the brainchild of Graham Elliott who is just 35 and a very busy guy – he has been nominated for James Beard Awards 3 times, is the culinary director of Lollapalooza, and held his own as a judge on MasterChef alongside the crotchety Gordon Ramsay. Elliott cut his teeth at two Chicago institutions, Charlie Trotter’s and Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel, before opening his Michelin-starred eponymous restaurant. As with so many things these days, including fashion and cars, diffusion lines are de rigueur and Grahamwich is Elliot’s version. As its name suggests, it’s a stylish and sweet sandwich shop.
Elliott’s sandwiches are rounded out with a menu including homemade sodas, pickled vegetables, chips, truffle-oil popcorn and seasonal soft-serves. Their tuna salad sandwich is a twist on the traditional Salade Niçoise and jam-packed with high quality tuna, greenbeans, hard-boiled egg, black olives and roasted peppers. It is flavoured with a basil pesto and held together on a soft and fluffy ciabatta roll. A friend drooled over her Portobello Gyro, a wrap exploding with grilled vegetables, smothered with a tart and creamy tzatziki sauce. The Italian Grinder, filled with salami, capocollo and pistachio mortadella looks like a Subway sub but tastes infinitely better. As important as the filling is what holds it together, and at Grahamwich they have carefully selected breads which do the job of carrying their insides well but are not too rough on the roof of your mouth and respond readily to your bite, so the sandwich isn’t a struggle to eat. We shared the delicately flavoured, freshly-made popcorn and after years of stale movie popcorn, were reminded of just how tasty and light this treat can be. We finished our meal with an apple-pie soft-serve topped with caramelized apple bits and pie crust that can be described in one word: scrumptious.
Grahamwich’s modern-retro décor (complete with old-fashioned popcorn machine) is charming, and although their seating is limited we were lucky enough to find spots at their communal table – but be prepared to cozy up to your neighbours as we’ve heard it can be quite packed. As many are quick to point out on various food-rating websites, Grahamwich is definitely not the least expensive lunch option – sandwiches range between $7 for a grilled cheese and $11 for a roast beef – add a house-made soda ($3) and a soft serve ($4) and you’re looking at more than $15 for lunch. Still, it’s a welcome alternative to fast-food options and their uninspired fare. Grahamwich hits the spot when you want fun and casual lunch option, without sacrificing quality. Elliott’s newest venture – Graham Elliott Bistro – opens this spring. It’s already on our ‘to do list’ next time we’re in Chicago!