Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
It was only a matter of time before I wrote about Hannah's Bretzel. The popular downtown lunch staple always seems to be bumpin', and when I went to go pick up lunch there, the place was packed as usual. Their specialty is Hungarian gravel bread. Just kidding. I don't even know what Hungarian gravel bread is, I just made that up to see if you were paying attention. Their real specialty is a dense and chewy house-made pretzel bread, or, bretzel, as they prefer to call it.
Hannah's Bretzel was recently picked as Chicago Magazine's Readers' Choice Best Homegrown Fast-Food Chain, and judging by its popularity, that's no surprise. The first time I ever had pretzel bread was, in fact, at Hannah's Bretzel, where I was fascinated by the idea that you could magically blend the two together. Because that's how they do it, right? Magic? I picture roguishly handsome David Copperfield taking bread and a soft pretzel, putting them into his magic box, and then all of a sudden 89 doves fly out of it, all carrying wonderful, wonderful pretzel bread.
As you can see, these sandwiches are all carefully put together, like the aforementioned David Copperfield.
The Sergio's Special ($8.89) is one of my favorite sandwiches on the menu. Salty French Madrange ham is paired with relatively dry and nutty gruyere, which are both countered with just a bit of sweet mango chutney. The surprising addition of sliced pickled jalapeños cuts through the rest of the flavors. There isn't nearly enough avocado on the sandwich to make a difference, and considering it's a whopping $1.99 for additional avocado, ordering extra isn't really a financially responsible idea, even if you love it as much as I do.
Hannah's Club ($9.69) is spruced up version of a turkey club sandwich, containing smoked turkey, bacon, gruyere, avocado, tomatoes, red onions, and romaine lettuce. I feel like the ratios of ingredients are a bit off on this one. As you can see in the picture, the dense bread and vegetables easily overpower the protein included in the sandwich. Of course it's easy to taste the bold flavor of bacon, but the turkey is nearly invisible.
The Apple Thyme Brie sandwich ($8.19) is one of the vegetarian options on the menu, and I was excited to try this one, since I'm a sucker for brie. The brie is good quality; it has that earthy and slightly mushroomy flavor you expect out of a good brie. But the apples weren't crisp or tart enough to counter the brie's richness, and the overpowering flavor of caramelized onions was puzzling. They are sweet and savory at the same time, and confuse the apple and cheese flavors of the sandwich.
With every sandwich, you get a choice of sides: potato chips, roasted almonds, or roasted soy nuts. None of these sides particularly stand out. Given the choice, I would opt for the potato chips or almonds. The roasted soy nuts tend to leave gritty little pieces that tend to stay stuck in your mouth for a good while.
Hannah's Bretzel is one of those places that touts its use of healthy organic ingredients, and you do pay for it. The sandwich portions are modest, and you're paying a premium for the components, but the trade-off is that you are getting a healthier sandwich than most places tend to offer.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.