#7 Seed – Lobster Roll – Fish Bar
From Christel S. – Oh Fish Bar, I really wanted to be in love with you. We were so close! Between your cozy New England ambiance and impeccable service you nearly charmed the pants off me into declaring you a winner right away. All you had to do was deliver a decent lobster roll and we could have really had something.
Instead you failed me in the worst way possible; your lobster was tough and pretty tasteless too. I had to fight with you right off the bat to make sure I didn’t eat all of the lobster in my first bite, and when I have to fight with my food to eat it properly I call it quits pretty fast. You tried to deceive me with a delicious and buttery texas toast-style bun, you even tried to mask how awful the lobster was by putting it in an overpowering seasoned mayo dressing (well, that might not be fair, I think the lobster was just so underwhelming that the dressing stood out that much).
If you had gotten someone who had never had lobster before maybe you could have pulled the wool over their eyes, they might not have known lobster isn’t supposed to be as chewy as an overdone steak. You’ve really left the door open for someone else to steal my sandwich affections. On the bright side I might give you a second chance someday as your brunch menu looked pretty fantastic!
From Patrick C. – The Lobster Roll. The filet mignon of sandwiches. With a delicacy such as lobster, its beauty lies in the simplicity of the sandwich. While the mayonnaise sauce and the bread are essential to the overall success of the sandwich, they should not be on your mind when you bite into this beauty. Christel and I were in high spirits as we strolled down Sheffield Avenue towards Fish Bar to kick off this bracket. After saying “Hello” to Ryan Vance on the street, we cozied up to the bar and started what should have been one of the best lunches of our year. Stepping inside the sky blue restaurant, you wouldn’t be remiss to believe the rocky New England shores were lapping just outside the windows.
The service was great throughout our visit. Both the server and the manager stopped by and made us feel at home. Our server, Curtis, helped us select our beers and starter oysters before the main event. Christel sipped her Daisy Cutter, and I my Allagash Saison, and our mood was set for a delicious lunch. Something about sipping beer in mason jars with the sun casting in at early afternoon angles really helps put a smile on my face.
The roll arrived in a paper container, which fit the vibe of a casual New England fish house. The custom made roll was toasted and browned perfectly, and there were plenty of chunks of lobster. Sadly, this would prove to be the high point of my visit. My first bite of the roll was a chore. The lobster was so tought and chewy, that I nearly pulled half of the filling out of the bread before I could manage to tear off a bite. Then I chewed…and I chewed. With every bite, I was hoping that the lobster flavor would finally emerge, but my hopes were never realized. Most of the chunks were from the lobster tail, which is known to be a tougher piece of meat, but when cooked properly, it can still be easy to bite and very flavorful. The bread was toothsome and buttery, the mayo sauce had a great tang and celery kick, but that was all I could taste. They may as well have filled a bun with mayo coated rubber balls and charged me $22 bucks for it. I would have enjoyed it equally. I’m hoping that this was a rare fluke, and that the rest of Chicago has been getting their money’s worth for the past couple of years, but they picked a bad time to serve up a bad sandwich.
#10 Seed – Steak Jibarito – Papa’s Cache Sabroso
From Christel S. –
A good reputation can carry a lot of weight and I’m ashamed to say, Papa’s Cache Sabroso, that’s the only reason I would have ever given you a chance. I’m glad I did though because you delivered a delicious jibarito, and you did it without being a phony. You came as you were with no flares; just fried plantain, steak, cheese, mayo, tomato and lettuce (although I must say a fried plantain in lieu of bread makes me happy in a way few can understand, so you had a slight advantage already in that department). The steak though, that’s where it was going to make or break you, and you did it! You were tender and seasoned well. I hardly had to do any work at all to make it work between us. We’ve had a great start and I’ll declare you the winner for this round. Don’t let this victory go to your head though and change who you are. I hate it when that happens.
From Patrick C. – For the past several years, the Jibarito has ceased to be a secret of the Puerto Rican community, and the rest of the city has been grateful that we’re finally in on it. It follows the same format as many other Latin American fast food in Chicago: Seasoned meat, lettuce, tomato, and sauce, served on something thin and delicious. Sounds like a sandwich to me. The twist with the Jibarito is that it is served on a thinly sliced, lightly battered, deep-fried plantain. Papas Cache Sabroso has made a name for itself as THE place to grab a traditional Jibarito in Chicago. When Christel and I drove down Division Street, under the twisted steel gates declaring our entry to “El Barrio de Humboldt Park,” we nearly missed this small, family run restaurant, as there is no large sign above the door, or banner to wave us in. Only a simple neon sign on the small picture window in front. If this sandwich advances to further rounds, take notice that you can park for free directly across the street.
The no frills exterior is a theme that travels inside the restaurant as well, as seating is limited to half a dozen tables, with slightly sticky table cloths. The patrons inside were split down the middle between “in the know” hipsters and regulars that didn’t need a menu when they sat down. We didn’t need a menu either, as we immediately ordered the steak jibarito, served with rice and beans. Our smiling server promptly returned with our prize, and I honestly did not know what to expect. The plantains were a perfect golden brown, and had a heavy garlic smell that really kicked my saliva glands into action. Skirt steak from most places is usually tougher than shoe leather, and unless it’s chopped up into tiny pieces, your jaw will quit on the meal before your stomach can get full.
Upon first bite, my taste buds started jumping, and I was more than surprised that the steak bit all of the way through on my first bite. I can’t remember the last time I had a tastier, tenderer (yes, it’s a word) piece of skirt steak. The lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo did their jobs as expected, and I found myself more satisfied after each bite. The plantains are advertised as “garlicky,” and they aren’t kidding. While it works well during the meal, don’t expect to snuggle up and get close to anyone for a few days after you eat this, unless you’re Kurt Vlodek, because I’m sure Meghan has dealt with far worse. The first half of my sandwich was eaten “au naturel,” just as it was served. For the second half, I began to sparingly smear a delicious hot sauce to add some extra kick. When your server asks if you’d like hot sauce, SAY YES! It added a whole new depth to the sandwich, and was easily the best hot sauce I’ve tried in ages.
Papas Cache Sabroso, we came in doubting that you could live up to the hype, and you proved that your jibarito deserves a special place of honor in Chicago’s food scene. While its garlicky aftertaste is still lingering, it will not outlast my fond memories. Jibarito, you are the winner!
The winner, gaining two votes to move on, is Papa’s Cache Sabroso and the Steak Jibarito! And the winner of best post yet, Pat and Christel!