Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: Miko's Flipside
1846 N Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-645-9664; mikosflipside.com
The Short Order: Well made sandwiches and satisfying soups.
Want Fries with That? You can add one of the soups as a side for just $2.
Seats? There are a few stools, plus a two small tables.
For half of the year, Miko's is just an ordinary Italian ice shop located in the basement of a townhouse in Bucktown. The Italian ice is balanced and not too sweet, making for an ideal warm weather treat. But now is not the summer. Now is the opposite of summer. And no one really wants refreshing Italian ice when the weather outside is colder than the ice. So, for the past two cold weather seasons, the location has transformed into Miko's Flipside, a coffee and sandwich shop.
When I mentioned that it was in the basement of a townhouse, I meant that in the most literal way possible. Besides the obvious signage, it almost has the feel of a speakeasy—albeit one that peddles in lunch instead of booze. In fact, I almost wanted to say, "Is it okay that I'm down here?" when I was greeted by the only employee. But I was quickly won over by the atmosphere, partly due to fact that he was playing Cornershop on the turntable. (Hey, everyone needs a bosom for a pillow.)
Now, I'm all for funky locations full of character and impressive collections of vinyl, but I won't suffer bad sandwiches, especially ones from self-proclaimed coffee shops. (That's where, in my opinion, most good sandwiches go to die.) My concern only grew when I realized that I had been waiting for my order for a good 15 minutes, even though I was the only person in the tiny shop.
But instead of fumbling around with ingredients, it turns out that he was in the back crafting one of the most delicious grilled cheeses I've encountered in a long time. The Cheddar and Smoked Gouda on House Rosemary Bread ($5) came out gloriously golden and crisp, with just enough gooey cheese to let me know it was there.
At the last second I also added from some roasted grape tomatoes ($1), which turned out to be a truly fortuitous addition. Those little acidic tomatoes helped cut through the fat, while also adding a touch of sweetness.
Even the tomato soup was satisfying in a way tomato soups rarely are. But I guess that's what to expect when the soup is called Killer Tomato ($2 for a side portion). Instead of sweet and smooth, it was chunky and savory. And yes, I did dip that sandwich into the soup. It was delicious.