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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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07.25.08

All Good Things Come On Bread

Restaurant Reviews


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Imagine a tree-lined street dotted with rustic brick houses and brimming with songbirds. Freeze-frame this mental snapshot and wax nostalgic for those time-worn, jovial American neighborhoods: neighborhoods where pies cooled in the windowsill, children played hopscotch in the driveway, and mom laid out picnics filled with comfort food. Now that I’ve got you longing for the day and age of To Kill a Mockingbird’s Southern charm, take that image and transplant it to Chicago 2008. Add a few high-rises in the distance, the background thunder of the El, and some mildly heavy street traffic and you’ve got the closest thing to a “Scout Finch” neighborhood the city has to offer. The picture isn’t complete though without, the edible treasure chest that is Panes in Lakeview’s Sheffield corridor.

If the Midwest is America’s breadbasket, than 3002 North Sheffield is ground zero. Baking on this serene stretch of city street since 1994, Panes has long been a family run labor of love, beckoning local regulars and word-of-mouth newcomers with its array of baked goods, hearty café meals, and an exuberant décor so warming, it makes Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood seem like a barren junkyard. In a world of rushed lunch breaks and the fast food drive thru, this place reigns as a glowing oasis for hungry anti-brown baggers looking for a fresh and filling midday meal.

Seeing as Panes is how the French say “bread,” and the subtitled moniker on the storefront windows read “bread café,” it’s no shock to see a loaf-lined wall of voluptuous sandwich fixings and sugary treats upon entering. The walls look as if they’re sponsored by the Crayola Company, pimped out in sunny yellows and vibrant pastels. Oil paintings, dangling tin star lamps, and an antique sign that reads “Life is too short, eat cookies,” round out the small dining room. Straddling the line between bakery and diner, Panes excels with it’s baked-that-morning breads which open the floodgates of childhood lunchbox memories and a yearning for all things carb-heavy. There’s just something about sidling into a cramped cafeteria with a chip-filled sandwich basket and squeezing into a tiny table amid fellow bread-lovers that screams of a bygone era. The good ol’ days where mom would pack your candy-colored lunch pale with PB & J or a lunch lady named Peggy Sue would plop a grilled cheese on your tray may be gone, but Panes is stepping in to fill that void, serving elevated comfort fare that’s far too good to be sealed inside a sandwich bag.

Come on a mid-Saturday or Sunday and you’d better be prepared to queue up and take your time. There’s a reason why the hungry flock here for a meal as opposed to the local conglomerate sub shop for a reheated slab of bread. Owner Eduardo Murillo, who along with his wife Karen Murillo, has been pouring his soul into Panes for 14 years. Ask him why folk prefer to take a number and wait a while at his bread café when they could be in and out at say, a Subway, faster than you can grumble “regrettable lunch option,” and he’s quick to hit up the self modesty. “People have their option,” he says with a humble shrug of the shoulders, “but it’s all in our flavors, the amount we offer at the price we charge. We prep everything to order. That’s why it takes a little longer to get your food; but people are willing to wait because of the result.” This painstaking devotion to quality ingredients is both what characterizes the place and fills it with winding lines come weekends.

Come morning, noon, or night, savvy customers are quick to opt for a sandwich off the page-long list of bread-based temptations. Everyone has their favorite sandwich, be it a guilty treat we seek out on a bad day or a tried-and-true staple we don’t leave the house without (ask my boyfriend and he’ll vouch for my all-consuming love for the grade-school classic fluffernutter). At Panes, the Murillos and their team of crafty sandwich staffers have taken the concepts of BLT’s, Sloppy Joe’s, and club sandwiches and flipped them on their head. At night I dream about the Veggie Cabra, a feast of sautéed squash, portabellas, and spinach pressed inside a goat cheese-slathered hybrid of soft baguette. Like all sandwiches, the Cabra, served with a heaping mound of chips, is a goliath-sized portion large enough to satisfy any cougars that may still be prowling in nearby Roscoe Village.

Another winner off the lengthy menu, no doubt earning its name, is the “Popular.” Squished between soft rolls of tomato bread, it’s a sandwich that shows how stunning a few simple ingredients can be when made at their peak: grilled chicken breast, caramelized onions, wilted spinach, roasted peppers, and gooey provolone cheese. On at least one visit, be sure to partake in a Panes sandwich that includes some of their fabulous pesto. Whether it be in their “Todo Italiano” with grilled chicken and thinly sliced prosciutto, the “Portabella” with grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, and tomatoes, or the “Pompazo” with spicy chicken breast and provolone, the eruption of garden-fresh basil, olive oil, and pine nuts in the form of a creamy green sauce is more than requisite.

The Panes sandwiches have been the original headliners of the menu since its inception. However, as a way to up the ante and satisfy the demand for people who sought a full-fledged meal of appetizers, entrée, and dessert, Panes has molded itself over the years. Now, we can munch on bread in a few other forms. Scoop up gobs of fresh, garlicky hummus with wedges of toasted bread; or order up some pizza bread, a platter-sized portion of their fluffy-soft tomato bread drenched with tomato-basil sauce and melted cheese.

Perhaps you’d like to save your pizza appetite for the real thing? For $5.25, a mammoth disc with toppings like BBQ chicken, bacon and onions, and red pesto, can be all yours (unless you have to share with a friend, heaven forbid). Although Eduardo Murillo promises he sticks to the reliable heart of the menu, changing and updating only once in a blue moon, it’s evident he’s having fun with his pastas, salads, and desserts. In 1994, it was all about the bread and the hefty sandwiches. Today, the neighborhood café is hawking the likes of tortilla salads, cheddar-parmesan macaroni n’ cheese, and desserts grand enough to rival the elite pastry royalty around town.

Do like mom used to tell you and finish your meal (or at least get the last few bites wrapped to go- trust me, you’ll want to keep it), but don’t you dare leave without picking up a confection for later. If you’re fortuitous and the orange brioche bread pudding is being made that day, get it. If not, you can’t go wrong with white chocolate rice pudding, coconut flan, or a brick of chocolate cola cake. Then there’s the “Monster” cookie; a cookie packed with so much peanut butter, oatmeal, M & M’s, and chocolate chips, it’ll have the cookie monster doing back flips.

Inside and out, everything about Panes oozes family and comfort. Not for one second, as you order your sandwich of choice at the register and tap your fingers at the table patiently, do you forget that this is a family endeavor. This bread café wafts with the aroma of a neighborhood standby that would be just as welcome in 1950’s middle America as it is in this modern metropolis. The Murillos are an every day presence in their shop, urged on by the constant flux of regulars and the satisfied beams that accompany their happy stomachs. Thanks to the saving presence of Panes, it is indeed, as Mr. Rogers and his PBS brethren would chime, a wonderful day in the neighborhood.

3 Comments on "All Good Things Come On Bread"

K.

“Pain,” not “panes,” is the French word for bread.



KarmaFree Cooking

Pan = Bread in Spanish. Panes is the plural for Pan.



JS

Panes is a charming neighborhood place that deserves a more even-handed (and less florid) review. Though it actually is very good, any restaurant would have a hard time living up to such indiscriminately effusive praise.



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