"It's a nearly perfect Italian sandwich."

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Bari Foods

1120 W Grand Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map)
The Short Order: Perfectly proportioned Italian sub with spicy giardiniera
Want Fries with That? Nope. Just pick up some chips on your way to the checkout
Want Ketchup? No, but definitely stock up with a jar of their homemade spicy giardiniera

I went to Bari in search of an Italian sub that didn't suck. It should be a simple creation, a humble combination of cured Italian meats and a few vegetables, but I'm astonished how many bad ones I've had in Chicago. Either they stuff too much meat in or too many bland, watery vegetables. The ingredients start to weigh down the sandwich, causing the bread to split and unleash the contents into your lap.

Bari is basically an old Italian grocery store that just happens to have a deli inside. I had heard about the lines, but when I walked in I just saw a few people idling by the deli in the back of the shop. I casually made my way down the center aisle until I noticed the massive menu, which looked old and unwavering. I was excited. I already knew what I wanted and couldn't wait to place my order.

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I began to walk towards the counter when I quickly gazed to my left. An unbelievably long line ran down the left aisle, and I realized my place at the end of it. There I waited for 20 minutes, wondering why on earth a sandwich needed to take this long to make.

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Once I got closer I realized why the system was so inefficient. While there are a few people working in the deli, each person constructs the sandwich from scratch. One person takes an order, goes back, cuts the bread, lays on the ingredients, wraps them up, and hands them over. No one else touches your sandwich.

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This painfully inefficient system ensures quality and is one of the main reasons why Bari is so good. The sandwich is stuffed with capocollo, genoa salami, mortadella, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and spicy giardiniera. It sounds like a lot of ingredients, but the whole thing is perfectly proportioned.

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The freshly baked bread is tender and slightly chewy, and all of the ingredients combine into one salty, fatty, crispy, spicy, and acidic bite. It's a nearly perfect Italian sandwich. In my dreams there'd be a deli like this in every neighborhood, but for now I'll gladly wait in line here.

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