Loaf Lounge Sandwich Shop in Chicago

This was the year of “The Bear”. Not like in a Chinese zodiac animal, but the critically acclaimed culinary drama about a young chef who leaves the world of fine dining to reluctantly run his family sandwich shop.

In the case of Loaf Lounge, art imitates life.

Chefs Ben Lustbader and Sarah Mispagel have also left fine dining restaurants to run their own sandwich shop with intent. They opened Loaf Lounge in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood this summer.

To further blur life and art, Mispagel worked as a pastry consultant on the show. You can now taste what is called The Bear Chocolate Cake at Loaf Lounge.

“It’s three layers of chocolate cake stacked with dark chocolate mousse,” Mispagel said. She uses pure origin Valrhona 64% Taïnori chocolate for the airy mousse, then finishes with an American butter chocolate icing.

The chef said the tasters usually fell into two camps.

“If you don’t like chocolate, you’ll just take one bite and save the rest for later. If you like chocolate, then it’s breakfast every day,” she laughed.

As the cake rose to fame, Lustbader’s breakfast sandwiches became equally popular in their own right.

“There are days when we’re neck and neck,” Mispagel said of her husband. “He’ll sell 120 sausage muffins and I’ll sell 119 slices of cake.”

Despite appearances, it is not a simple sandwich.

“We bake the English muffins, toast them in clarified butter, then coat this herb mayonnaise,” Lustbader says. “And we sear the sausage, flip a medium egg, and melt over American cheese.”

The chef forgets to mention that he makes his own sausage.

“The main flavors are roasted garlic, chili flakes, porcini mushrooms, fennel seeds and maple,” he said.

The Loaf Lounge counter and table.  Two chefs opened the Loaf Lounge in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood this summer.
The Sausage, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich features maple garlic sausage, eggs, American cheese and herb mayonnaise on a homemade English muffin at the Loaf Lounge.

The veggie breakfast sandwich replaces the sausage with braised kale, deeply flavored with pickled mushrooms and spicy peppers.

But it’s their superb salmon breakfast sandwich that hints at stories past and future. I felt completely underdressed for the wildly arranged open-faced canvas with dried curls and glittering eggs.

Lustbader prepares the salmon with brown and white sugar, fennel seeds, black pepper, Aleppo pepper, orange, lemon, dill, basil and gin.

“Then we make a cream cheese that echoes all of those flavors,” he said. They garnished with Three Sisters melon when in season, but replaced the melon with sculptural ribbons of cucumber, thinly sliced ​​with radish rings and pickled red onion strips.

It’s all about Marbled Rye, one of nearly a dozen rotating breads they bake, available by the loaf. It’s unexpected on their sleepy stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, until you remember where they’re from.

“He had made Malört salted salmon at Nightwood for special brunches here and there,” Mispagel said.

The chefs met and worked together at the beloved restaurant in Pilsen, before it closed in 2015.

“We had a smoked salmon at Giant on one of the first menus,” Lustbader said. He opened the Logan Square restaurant in 2016 with Jason Vincent, which received a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Chef in 2022.

“Even in Nightwood, Ben said he wanted to open a sandwich shop one day,” Mispagel said. “When he and I started dating and then eventually got married, it became the thing we were always working toward.”

Mispagel also worked for a bit at Giant, but left to become pastry chef at Michelin-starred Sepia and its neighboring Proxi restaurant.

“In my head, I was like, this is the last restaurant job I’m going to get before I open a place with Ben,” she said. “And I intentionally wanted to do something a little fancier than before. I wanted to see if I had the strength to do something like this really fancy restaurant, and then I wanted to open the sandwich shop.

They started looking for spaces in the fall of 2019.

“And then March 2020 happened,” Mispagel said. “But after a few months, we kind of realized that if we were all going to live, we would still need to eat sandwiches.”

They started cooking at Superkhana International, the modern Indian restaurant also in Logan Square, as a pandemic pop-up, but without making sandwiches.

Sandwiches seemed like a curious goal, given their experience, until Lustbader explained it.

“The cooking paths I’ve really fallen in love with have to do with sandwiches,” he said. “Even though I’m less involved with the bread team at the moment, I love baking bread. I love charcuterie. I love to cook brunch like I love egg cooking. All of those come together in this kind of restaurant and I really love it.

This love shows in the perfect, runny egg yolk, cooked to order and hidden in breakfast sandwiches.

And then there’s a whole other collection of lunchtime sandwiches, available at noon, built on their outstanding bread.

The BLT layers thick bacon, lettuce, tomato and homemade mayonnaise on an outrageous jalapeno and cheddar bun. The California vegetable crams what must be the worth of a monthly avocado mortgage payment with cheddar cheese and sprouts on crackling crusted country sourdough. The turkey, prepared by their friends at Serbian Sandwich Shop 016 in Lincoln Square, is covered in roasted garlic ranch on seeded bread.

Baked goods at the small pastry counter are available all day, while supplies last, from classic chocolate chip cookies to kouign-amann to seasonal sweet and savory danishes. So do coffee drinks, made with four-letter beans, including a local cook’s cult favorite called Kyle’s Go Juice, made with espresso, Angostura bitters and delicately sweetened with honey.

The buttery croissants have homemade capicola and fig mostarda as a nice breakfast sandwich, but on their own they’re a bit breaded, rather than breaking up crispy layers.

“It has to be structural enough to withstand the sandwich,” Mispagel said. “And I don’t like it when you get a croissant and it crumbles into nothing. Like it’s really beautiful, but then you can’t eat anything.

So she does one round less for this croissant dough.

“It’s the same when you’re talking about bread,” Lustbader said. “Very high hydration breads are very popular with some bakers, and they look wonderful. But we are a sandwich shop. So if we were to start building sandwiches on these buns with massive air holes, it wouldn’t be a sandwich.

And Loaf Lounge is a chefs sandwich shop with dedicated intent.

[email protected]

2934 N. Milwaukee Ave.

773-904-7852

loafloungechicago.com

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Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed monday and tuesday

Prices: $7.50 (The Bear chocolate cake), $9 (sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich), $12 (caramelized onion bread), $13 (BLT), $14 (salmon breakfast sandwich )

Noise: Friendly conversation

Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with toilets on one level

Note from the podium: Excellent to very good, 2½ stars

Classification key: Four stars, outstanding; three stars, excellent; two stars, very good; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.

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