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.
The sandwich is pretty much a perfect lunch. It has bread, usually some kind of protein, fruits and vegetables, sometimes cheese, and condiments. You can pick it up and eat it conveniently on the go. You can also pick it up and throw it with blind rage. Tacos are actually better rage-throwing devices, just in case you were wondering. One time a friend of mine (his nickname is Pork Chop) was drunk and in the backseat of my car, and he rage-threw a Taco Bell soft taco into my windshield (no actual malice intended, he was just blasted). It exploded into a beautiful display of pebbly little beef, unmelted shredded cheese, and lettuce. It's probably been about six years since that incident, and there's still beef in the vents right under my windshield.
There's no good way to segue from that last paragraph, so let's pretend it didn't happen. The Marquette Inn is an unassuming little diner right in the heart of the Loop. The interior is dark and dingy, but it has a lot of character and is, in my experience, always busy. When you walk in, head for the take-out sandwich bar in the front, where you'll find one of those old backlit menus with the interchangeable letters. It's almost all sandwiches. (Note that every sandwich comes with your choice of soup, which is perfect for winter.)
When I visited, one of the specials of the day was the Chicago Loop sandwich ($8.00). It sounds expensive, but when you unwrap this puppy, it's got to be at least a pound of food (plus you get the soup). It features thick roast turkey, ham, and Swiss. And let me tell you—I'm still thinking about this sandwich. The thick-cut turkey is by far the best part. It's not just some liquid-injected and emulsified turkey meat; this is the real deal, full of that rich, round, poultry flavor. The ham is just standard deli issue stuff, but it helps counterbalance the turkey by adding some meaty and salty goodness. The dark rye is a perfect choice of bread, and make sure you get some yellow mustard to seal the deal.
If you're not a turkey person, go straight for the corned beef sandwich ($7.25). My coworker wasn't paying attention when he ordered it and got lettuce and tomato plopped on there, but they're not necessary—all you need is some mustard. They're generous with the beef, and while it's not artisan-style fancy stuff, it's a really hearty sandwich.
Of course, there is a Reuben ($8.50), which comes with fries by default. The Reuben is pretty much what you'd expect; strong and salty corned beef comes topped with sauerkraut that soaks up the bread below. If you order the sandwich to go, they package it with a big packet of bright orange factory-made Thousand Island for you to spread on as you please.
I wouldn't get too excited about the soup; the Manhattan Clam Chowder tastes like it came out of a can; the veggies are super soft, and the orange broth doesn't have much flavor, not even of tomato. There are, however, a few big chewy chunks of clam.
The mac and cheese ($4.00) came completely cold, which is a bummer, because it's actually kind of addictive. The noodles are way overcooked, but the cheese sauce is thick and rich. But somehow it's good anyway, in that greasy spoon diner sort of way. But when I'm back at the Marquette Inn, I'm definitely getting the turkey again, and I won't be rage-throwing it at anybody's windshield. I'll be rage-eating it. In a good way.
60 West Adams Street, Chicago IL 60603 (map)
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.