Standing Room Only: Mr Spanky's Brings Chinese Stuffed Buns to Bridgeport
335 West 31st Street, Chicago, Illinois 60616 (map); 312-450-3069; mrspankys.com
The Short Order: Satisfying sandwiches on Chinese buns.
Want Fries with That? No fries, but a few are sides are available.
Seats? No tables in the small space, but there is a small counter with some stools.
Like many of my favorite stands in Chicago, Mr. Spanky's makes little sense and is all the better for it. For example, here you can procure house-made bacon and sausage, freshly prepared salads, and, just to throw the whole thing off, meaty mini-sandwiches served on a "custom made Chinese baked bun."
Though fusion food of this sort often gets a bad rap, when done right, it's led to the creation of basically all of my favorite dishes. Trouble comes when it feels forced, like a marketing team came up with the idea and is trying desperately to sell it to the public. But I genuinely doubt owner John Schultz tested the market with this concept before opening a small storefront in Bridgeport. Instead, I think it comes down more to geography; the buns come from a bakery in Chicago's Chinatown, which just so happens to be located directly north of Bridgeport.
About those buns. They are soft, squishy, and slightly sweet, making them ideal carrying cases for the mostly salty and meaty fillings Mr. Spanky's excels at producing. Instead of a dozen different options, Mr. Spanky's limits the options to two regulars. The Bad Ass BLT ($3.50) is already the restaurant's signature, and it's easy to see why. Crisscrossing the sandwich sit two thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon, which Schultz produces in-house and is justifiably proud of. Each piece is crispy and substantial, without being too tough to chomp through. Rounding thing out, this variation on the summertime classic wisely avoids out-of-season tomatoes and limp lettuce for hearty baby spinach and a tart sun-dried tomato aioli.
Mr. Spanky's also serves a daily special, which explains how I lucked into devouring the pot roast with giardiniera ($4.50), a modified Italian beef with tender shards of beef bathed in gravy and punctuated by crisp pickled vegetables. Of course, pot roast is not the same as thinly sliced Italian beef, and it never will be, but this is a worthwhile variation on the concept that I'd gladly try again. Also, the soft, sweet bun works especially well here, holding up to the meatiness just as well as the standard Turano roll, without any of the cottony innards that sometimes afflict the roll.
As mentioned above, Mr. Spanky's serves a range of salads, soups, and sides, which I'll have to try next time. Of course, now that I've tried the bacon, the idea of ordering it by the pound actually sounds like a great plan.