The Vegetarian Option: Wicker Basket Cafe

The Vegetarian Option

Reviews of vegetarian dishes.

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[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

If you could ask John Montagu what are the two essential components to that famous snack food he named way back in the 1700s, the fourth Earl of Sandwich would tell you "meat and bread." Sure, there has been a technological advance or two since Montagu's day—the local invention of the jibarito comes to mind—but the original formula still pretty much prevails today. I know because I've had quite a few pathetic, phoned-in, sorry-state-of-affairs vegetarian sandwiches in my time. As a genre, the veggie sandwich just doesn't get as much love as its cold-cut counterpart. So it's always a pleasure to uncover merit in the oft-overlooked and under-appreciated field of vegetarian-sandwich-making arts. And Wicker Basket Cafe has merit.

Up first, the Californian ($6.49): soft multigrain bread, sharp provolone cheese, creamy avocado, crisp cucumber, lettuce, juicy tomato, and garlic mayo. Not only was the Californian composed of fresh, flavorful ingredients, it had been built with care—generous (but not slathered-on) pats of mayo on both slices of bread, yet it exhibited very little slippage between ingredients. The provolone had the bite and depth to really come through among all the other flavors.

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Things got even better with the eggplant parmesan ($6.95), off the Wicker Basket's hot sandwich list. Press-toasted to crispy perfection, the eggplant parm sandwich was warm, rich, and super-satisfying. With all that tomato sauce coating the tender slabs of lightly breaded eggplant, you might expect that the slices of bread would get soggy and messy. But that wasn't the case. The bread held up to the last bite.

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The quinoa salad ($1.99), made with roasted tomatoes, spinach, sunflower seeds, onion, and a light toss of olive oil, was far more standard fare compared to the eggplant parm sandwich. I was happy to see that the Wicker Basket had several veggie-friendly pre-made salads on offer, but this one felt a bit basic. Although the quinoa was well-cooked, it outnumbered the other ingredients by a wide margin.

On balance, Wicker Basket's vegetarian offerings were impressive—fresh, unfussy, and flavorful. And that eggplant parm might well have made Montagu rethink his fateful request during that marathon card game he just couldn't step away from.

Wicker Basket Cafe

2113 West Division Street, Chicago, IL 60622 (map)
773-698-8413
wickerbasketcafe.com