Anyone who works in Chicago’s Loop knows there is a serious dearth of lunchtime eateries that are both inexpensive and not chains. When I worked in the area, most of my colleagues would trudge off to Cosi, Chipotle or some other generic chain. I would eat my homemade lunch feeling satisfied that I hadn’t wasted my money or calories.
Luckily, my friend the Scarlet Pumpernickel has similar standards to my own. He works at the Art Institute and has made a point of seeking out nearby non-corporate establishments with more interesting and delicious cuisine. On one of our lunchtime meet-ups during the work week, Scarlet Pumpernickel took me to the excellent Fontano’s Subs.
The original Fontano’s is located on Polk Street in Little Italy, but this one, on Jackson seems just as old timey. Most of the people coming up to the bare-bones formica counter were working men with the appetites to match. Subs are available in six-inch, eight-inch, ten-inch, twelve-inch, sixteen-inch and three-foot lengths. Let me be the first to advise that six-inch is usually plenty.
I ordered the Italian special (pictured above), which came with prosciuttini, capocollo and provolone cheese. True to my tendency toward spiciness and sourness, I added hot pepper, onions and pickles. Italian dressing is also a necessity when it comes to adding moisture to these subs. This is far preferable to the less authentic and heavier mayo. Other sandwiches I hope to try some day include: Wise Guy (my sandwich, but with Genoa salami), Prosciutto (made with imported prosciutto di Parma) and the hot Italian beef and meatball sandwiches.
Scarlet Pumpernickel tried the breaded eggplant sandwich, which is also served hot. It may not look so delicious in this picture, but the rich warm tomato sauce and the earthy fried eggplant can’t be beat. He also added hot peppers, but there was little need for additional condiments in this case.
The greatest thing about this sandwich and the Italian beef, meatballs and sausages is that all of the meat is made in-houseâ€” not purchased from a large distributor or extracted from a package that has been frozen for eternity. This is simple Italian American food at its finest, and it’s a great place for a cheap and delicious Loop lunch.
20 E. Jackson St.
Chicago, IL 60604