Sandwiches are surefire hits with kids, no matter how you slice ’em. In Chicago, they’re experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with PB&J now competing for attention with fancier newbies, including Euro-inspired bite-sized sammies and waffle ’wiches. In honor of picnicking season, we give you the rundown on the sandwich shops that are worth your bread.
The Spiel: The new arrival brings Austrian flavor to Midwest masses. The cafe is inspired by a small chain of Duran sandwich shops popular in Vienna, Austria, where the specialty is mini open-faced sandwiches decorated with ingredients like dainty pieces of art.
Kiddie Appeal: Miniature sandwiches are perfect for miniature mouths. Kids marvel at the display case stocked with more than 30 small wonders, from Hungarian salami to carrot-and-apple salad to Mediterranean tuna.
The Vibe: The sandwiches may be itsy, but the 1,500-square-foot space is anything but. Modern and sleek, it’s decorated with funky pieces of art selected by the owner’s art curator husband.
529 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Spiel: Wrigleyville’s sammie spot is run by a chef dedicated to sustainability and being kid friendly (he’s a dad himself). You can feel good about eating here because everything was built to be environmentally sound and wholesome ingredients come from local farms. Bread is baked in house and meats are smoked onsite.
Kiddie Appeal: There’s no question about the lure of the PB&J Calzone. More adventurous eaters may try a fried egg BLT or BBQ pulled chicken. There’s also a vegan black bean burger, and gluten-free wraps are available.
The Vibe: It’s sunny and cozy, almost like a kindergarten classroom, minus the homework.
3037 N. Clark St.
The Spiel: A bustling downtown enclave full of whimsy, Grahamwich is owned by noted chef Graham Elliot. Sandwiches are inspired by Americana classics and ethnic staples, each with quirky gourmet twists.
Kiddie Appeal: Grilled cheese, Reuben, roast beef and Waldorf chicken sandwiches are a few of the lunchbox-friendly bites on deck. There are snacks (pickles, chips, popcorn) and soft-serve ice cream, too.
The Vibe: You’ll feel right at home among the vibrant colors, popcorn machine and vintage-inspired accoutrements.
615 N. State St.
Panes Bread Cafe
The Spiel: Nestled along a quiet strip in Lakeview, Panes is Dr. Atkins’ worst nightmare and a kid’s best dream. This is the type of charming neighborhood cafe every other neighborhood envies. Since 1995, Panes has been serving simple, delicious sandwiches to the delight of young and old.
Kiddie Appeal: Menu hits are glorified versions of the sandwiches you make at home. Try El Prasino, made with grilled chicken, Swiss cheese, smoked ham, sliced tomato and honey mustard; and Veggie Cabra, featuring spinach, yellow squash, goat cheese, portabella mushroom and Mediterranean dressing. The cafe also sells housemade desserts and snacks.
The Vibe: It’s like a living room — warm, inviting, and comfy enough for hours of noshing and lingering.
3002 N. Sheffield Ave.
The Spiel: Come here for nostalgic reinterpretations of sack lunch favorites. You’ll enjoy thoughtful versions of peanut butter sandwiches, Reubens, BLTs, and other lunchbox hits.
Kiddie Appeal: The organic peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich is an irresistible dessert-like creation (add bacon to make it an “Elvis”). BLTs skew classic or can be made into a “BLASTS” by adding shrimp and avocado. Even the veggie sandwich exceeds expectations, made with black beans and sweet plantains. Wash it all down with milkshakes, malts and smoothies (the oatmeal smoothie tastes like a drinkable cookie).
The Vibe: Imagine grandma’s cottage, if she were a hippie and had a thing for bright purple. It’s an incredibly soothing atmosphere, made even more so by the array of board games piled here and there.
3581 W. Belden Ave.
The Spiel: For something more offbeat, head to this River North newbie specializing in waffle sandwiches. The waffles are thinner and chewier than Belgian waffles, folded around savory and sweet fillings like a jumbo taco.
Kiddie Appeal: If there’s one thing kids love as much as sandwiches, it’s waffles. The fillings — everything from fried chicken to bananas and Nutella — are just icing on the cake.
The Vibe: Lively and modern, Bel 50 is known for its wall diorama depicting the complete history of the waffle. You have to love teachable moments, especially when they happen at lunchtime.
738 N. Clark St.
What would be in your kid’s dream sandwich? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Matt Kirouac
Photos: Courtesy of Duran European Sandwiches, Sandwich Me In, Grahamwich, Chi-Spy, The Brown Sack & Bel-50