Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler, owners of Jerry’s Sandwiches and Cafe in the West Loop, have more degrees than a thermometer. She’s a former lawyer, and he’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago School of Business and, “almost,” the University of Chicago Law School.
That’s probably why Jerry’s is such a smart take on the common sandwich. They derisively refer to Jerry’s as a “Super Subway,” but their attention to detail — using a blend of iceberg and arugula lettuce for crunch and flavor, smoking meats and fish in a log-burning smoker and whipping up homemade condiments like chipotle chutney — make Jerry’s a palace of sandwich craft.
A new Jerry’s has a more sophisticated design, with chandeliers handcrafted from serving spoons, a flagstone-style fireplace, a community gathering space and a few anticipated additions to the menu: plated desserts and American craft beers.
Q. What do you wish you could pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/food scene?
Mindy: I think there’s a real lack of pretension from both Chicago diners and restaurateurs. They don’t take themselves as seriously as other places. Even at the fine dining restaurants in Chicago, they understand that if you’re spending $200 a person for dinner, perhaps they should be nice to you.
Q. What would your last sandwich be?
Mindy: Maybe a shrimp po’ boy of some sort.
Mark: That’s what I was going to say.
Q. Where do you eat before or after a shift?
Mindy: West Town Tavern. [Susan Goss is] a wonderful cook after our own heart.
Mark: In terms of culinary fireworks, a little off the beaten track, I think the chef at Scylla [Stephanie Izard] is terrific. If I ever become a great chef, I’d like to cook like her.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss meal at Jerry’s?
Mark: I would say the beers. Come for the beers, stay for the sandwich. We’re gonna shoot for 100 American craft beers, most … you’ve never heard of.
Mindy: When people can’t decide what to get, I steer them to blackened chicken. It’s flavorful and you can do great sauces with it.
Q. What should we know about Jerry’s that we probably don’t?
Mark: We wanted a good deli name. We said let’s call it Mindy’s; you know, that sounds Jewish. Mindy is Jewish, in fact, but she wouldn’t let us. Then we decided let’s just call it Jerry’s, both to name it after Jerry Garcia and because it sounds like a Jewish deli.
Jerry’s Sandwiches; 1938 W. Division, Chicago (773) 235-1006