Located in the historic Monadnock Building, Cavanaugh's has been serving hungry office workers since 1989. That's a long time: long enough for official brass signage to be affixed to the side of the building. And while its younger neighbors are quite trendy—a custom made hat shop and a coffee shop that deals almost exclusively in pour overs—Cavanaugh's probably hasn't changed much more than a light bulb in all these years.
Count me a fan of Federal Hill style calamari, which adds pickled banana peppers to the dredged and fried squid. The Crispy Calamari ($9.50) here is the even better Chicago version of that, with hot giardiniera and kalamata olives tossed together with the rings and tentacles. Served over lettuce, this eats like a salad, albeit one dressed with marinara and tartar sauce.
The Chopped Salad ($11.95) is a pretty basic take on the classic, bulked out with pasta shells and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Add a little salt and pepper tableside and find yourself transported back to the days when you wouldn't dare try to make a meal out of a salad that didn't include bacon AND chicken AND hard boiled eggs AND bleu cheese.
When I ordered the Chicken Orzo Soup($5.50 for a bowl or $2.50 to add to a sandwich), I was expecting the blended avgolemono variety. Imagine my surprise when this pasta primavera in a bowl arrived instead. No complaints here: the broth is rich and chicken-y, and the pasta and veggies still have plenty of bite. Even the diced chicken breast is tender and juicy.
The South Loop Rib-Eye Steak ($12.95) has promise: the waitress asked how I'd like it cooked, and the kitchen made a valiant effort at rendering the half inch flap a proper medium rare. The whiskey grilled onions and bleu cheese complement without overpowering, but it's the bun that's the problem: seemingly comprised of the thin first and last slices of a sandwich loaf, this sandwich fell apart almost before it started.
The French Fries (included with sandwiches) are standard from-frozen diner specimens, but the kitchen has the decency to fry them to crisp, glistening order.
I can get behind a rote lunch menu like this from time to time—as long as the execution moves a little beyond going through the motions. While there were definitely some outdated duds floating through the dining room (steamed broccoli and whipped potatoes, anyone?), the soup and calamari I tried got me wondering just what else is buried in the vinyl covered menu here. And if their tenure thus far is any indication, Cavanaugh's will be around long enough for me to find out.