Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chicago Chronicles: Grahamwich

What do fresh coffee, laundry detergent, dog food, and cute shoes all have in common? I can buy them at Target. My love affair for the Bullseye store is deep, like, way deep. I can go into that store for toothpaste and a roll of tape and come out with four bags of items I didn’t even know I needed.

Recently, Target has been doing a great job of getting big name designers to create clothing collections that are fashionable and affordable. I could buy a cute Missoni top or Jason Wu skirt and feel like a million bucks, without actually spending a million bucks.

I feel like Graham Elliot and Target have a lot in common. 

With his self-titled restaurant, Graham Elliot has left a huge culinary imprint on Chicago and the world. The restaurant and its name sake are racking up awards and accolades like nobody’s business. While dining at Graham Elliot would undoubtedly be a revelation, I have yet to make it there. My dollars will only stretch so far.

Which is where the Target comparison comes in. Chef Elliot has made his culinary creations accessible to poor college kids like me the masses with his shop, Grahamwich. A boutique sandwich shop located in the Near North Neighborhood, Grahamwich is churning big flavors out of its small storefront.

When I wandered in there Tuesday, I knew it would undoubtedly be good. I mean, hello? It’s Graham-friggin’-Elliot. But I didn’t know how good. I didn’t know what to expect.

I wasn’t expecting the personality, attention to detail, or politeness I was greeted with. Like the helpful conversation with the girl behind the counter, during a busy lunch rush no less. Or the jokes I traded with the guy making my sandwich as I creepily took pictures. Heck, even the customers Grahamwich attracts were nice!

And the food! OH THE FOOD! I went with the southern BBQ (duh, BBQ + pork = on my radar) and was expecting a perfectly pleasant sandwich. What I wasn’t expecting was how soft the kaiser roll would be or how subtly sweet the sauce would be or how corn bread crumbles would turn into my new favorite condiment. I even wolfed down the strands of coleslaw that fell off this joyous mound of bread, something I didn't think capable (I abhor coleslaw 99% of the time). I washed it down with one of the handcrafted sodas – a vanilla kola. My first time having soda in months, and I’m so glad it was this.

Now, I go into a sandwich shop, and I expect to get a sandwich, maybe a side, and call it a day. What I don’t expect is to see is a list of snacks and desserts that are as creative as those on Grahamwich’s chalkboards.

Out of the two soft-serve flavors I went with cinnamon stick, or “apple pie in a cup” as the girl behind the counter put it. Because nothing screams May quite like the quintessential dessert of fall. I nearly screamed when I took my first bite of this frozen bit of joy. The ice cream itself was perfectly spicy and wonderfully sweet. The roasted apples were thinly sliced so as not to interfere with the texture of the ice cream. Added bits of pie crust added another textural element. To finish it all off, a salted caramel sauce that was as thick as it was sweet.

While the menu isn’t mind-bogglingly extensive at Grahamwich, every dish is creative and made with quality, complimentary ingredients. Put together with careful consideration for flavors, textures and the all-around togetherness of the final product, the dishes at Grahamwich are worth their weight in gold…or corn bread crumbles.

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