A plate of handwiches from Burkes Bacon Bar
  • Aimee Levitt
  • A plate of handwiches from Burke’s Bacon Bar

The first day after the polar vortex when the temperature finally got back above freezing and everyone realized that 34 degrees feels pretty damned good, I felt giddy and celebratory enough to go review Rosie’s West Town Deli in Ukrainian Village, which didn’t seem too arduous a trek from River North. I took sandwich orders from some of my dear coworkers and cheerfully promised them I would be back in an hour.

However, the CTA buses had not yet adjusted to the thaw and were still running with polar vortex-level slowness. It took an hour to get to Western and Cortez, a lot of it spent tramping down Division. (It wasn’t all bad: I got some exercise and got to see a hipster skip down the street like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, only without the guitar case.) It took another hour to get back, and by then it had started to rain. I stepped in several slush puddles. The paper shopping bag that held all the sandwiches slowly dissolved and then finally broke as I was maneuvering through a turnstile.

And yet—the sandwiches survived! The paninis were still crisp. The meatballs were still tender, even after a zapping in the office microwave. Most importantly, none of the sandwiches had fallen apart on the perilous journey across town. They were a miracle of sandwich construction. They tasted good, too.

Of course there were a few flaws. Almost everyone felt the condiments had been applied with too stingy a hand. The eggplant Parm, bizarrely, had not been breaded or battered before it was fried. The lechon in the Cuban sandwich was a little gray, and the ham tasted like off-the-shelf cold cuts.

But for the most part, we were happy, and not just because we were insanely hungry. The marinara sauce was a thing of beauty, thick and full of chunks of garlic and basil. The turkey, roasted in-house, was moist and satisfying. The best part, though, was the bread. It had been baked earlier in the day, and it had a crisp crust and a soft crumb and was so sturdy you could probably eat the sandwich on a bus or train without a catastrophe.

I admit, I was not in the best of moods when I finally got to Rosie’s. I was cold and hungry and my feet were wet inside my boots. I ate too many of the samples they had lying out. But the staff behind the counter were kind. They set to work making the sandwiches, apologized for making me wait (they were nothing compared to the Division bus), and when they deduced by the size of the order that I was an office sandwich mule, they threw in a packet of almond-paste cookies. It was clearly a family-owned business; the people behind the counter were clearly invested in the finished product. (The Pecoraro family also runs the Sicilia Bakery in Portage Park. The meatball recipe is Mama Rosie’s very own.) They made an experience that could have been a disaster into one that was horribly inconvenient but ended with a very nice sandwich.

The following week, I went to review Burke’s Bacon Bar in River North, a little to-go nook in the ground floor of the James Hotel. The Bacon Bar isn’t actually a bacon bar in the sense you would imagine in your most pork-obsessed dreams—a long table piled with platters of sizzling bacon in all its various forms, hickory-smoked bacon, pepper bacon, jowl bacon, candied bacon, and, maybe at the end, a vat of bacon ice cream. Instead, the bacon comes buried in dainty little “handwiches.”

The bacon is very good. The handwiches are not, mostly because they’re carelessly assembled and not packaged for travel, which is essential if you’re running a to-go operation and know they won’t be eaten right away. By the time I got back to my desk after a dry, uneventful, 15-minute walk, the bread had gone soggy and the meat and cheese had blended together into a general impression of saltiness, drowning out the particularly sweet-crispy saltiness of the bacon. The only way I could tell the difference between the CBLT and the Cheddar and Bacon was by sight: one had a tasteless pink tomato and a scrap of pale lettuce while the other did not. The Five-Spice Duck was salty, too, but it was the salt of soy sauce. (That one came with “Chinese Bacon,” but no one could explain to me what that was, exactly.)

Three handwiches make a decent-size meal. (A single handwich is $4, but you can get three for $11.) The menu promises caramel-bacon popcorn, but it was not available when I stopped by. It was yet another disappointment.

Rosie’s West Town Deli, 1021 N. Western, 773-235-3354
Burke’s Bacon Bar, 610 N. Rush, 312-660-7200