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Northwest Side Review: The Brown Sack

By Amelia Levin in Food on Apr 24, 2007 4:03PM

This ain’t your ordinary brown sack lunch. When your Reuben comes with butter-sherry sautéed onions and the sloppy Joe hails from New Mexico with jalapeños and chilies, you know you’re not going to have just an ordinary sandwich at this charming lunch spot in Logan Square.

2007_04_BrownSack.jpgMaybe that’s because the head chef and owner, Malaika Marion, who trained at CHIC (Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago) and Le Cordon Bleu, has racked in time at some major restaurants in the city, including most recently serving as manager at the acclaimed, sustainable food-friendly hot spot, Lula Café. In other words, Marion may specialize in mainly soups and sandwiches, but she knows what she’s doing.

Her partner of 13 years, Adam Lebin, also knows what he’s doing. Together, Lebin says, the duo helped open the original Planet Hollywood downtown, and after that closed, Rainforest Café. Lebin’s also clocked time as a manager at restaurateur Jerry Kleiner’s popular Red Light and Opera restaurants., as well as at the former 1212 restaurant in the Gold Coast that’s now Bella Lounge.

2007_04_BrownSack2.jpgThere’s something about a great story that made our already delicious food taste even better. Wanting to open their own places, Lebin says he and Marion spent time outside of their full-time jobs scouting spots for their own place in their neighborhood. Finally, they found the perfect spot—a former tortilla shop that vacated the premises, leaving behind a fully equipped kitchen, even though Marion does just fine with only a few pieces: a nice grill, a crock pot for the sloppy Joe, some good refrigeration.

Outside, the hidden gem is just that - a little hidden - with a modest store front tucked between a used tire shop and a vacant lot on Armitage Avenue. Inside, though, the décor is colorful and bubbly with sage walls, a decorative mirror hand-painted with pastels, knick knacks, and colorful mugs holding tootsie rolls on each table, of which there are only about five, FYI.

We strolled in and headed to the window counter to place our order. It was a toss-up between the grilled organic peanut butter and banana sandwich, the apparently very popular meatball sub, and the Reuben, but we ultimately settled on splitting the latter with the suggested special of the day—the sloppy Joe that had been slow cooking all morning. That was apparent by the flavors that seemed to meld perfectly together. Juice from the ground beef melded with heat from the peppers and chilies plus sweetness from the onions and surprisingly, honey, thrown in the mix. Piled neatly atop a simple sesame bun, it was really hard to go wrong here.

The Reuben was different than most—no messy Russian dressing here. Just fresh and shockingly, not dry, corned beef topped simply with the sherry onions and melted cheese that packed a sweet-savory bite. Washing all that down with some old school Jay’s potato chips and a vanilla shake made with premium ice cream and whole milk, and life was pretty good. Regulars rave about the oatmeal shake too—loaded with the grain plus bananas and honey, it can serve as a healthy meal replacement. Well, maybe next time, but today we were on an eating spree.

2007_04_BrownSack3.jpgApparently all that wasn’t enough for us—we had to try the mac ‘n’ cheese, and what a treat—perfectly al dente pasta tossed with wholesome cheese and topped with crispy breadcrumbs, the dish was a little on the greasy side, but the homemade, rich taste was still there.

Yeah, not done yet. As a topper to our meal, we snagged a couple of homemade cookies baked by Lebin’s mom—these, though, were more like white chocolate bark in the shape of cookies and studded with Rice Krispies and peanuts. Yum.

We hate to be so overtly positive about, yawn, everything when doing a review, but it’s hard not too be that way about this adorable spot. Okay, maybe the price was a little high for Logan Square—about 6 bucks for a sandwich plus a few extra for a shake, but seriously, that’s not that bad overall for lunch. Two thumbs up, guys. See you next week. (Note: Lebin says they plan to expand their hours in the summer to include breakfast—yes!)

The Brown Sack, located at 3706 W. Armitage Ave., 773-661-0675, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.