Ham on Wry

Michael Nagrant / 05.19.06

If a bunch of drunken Mardi Gras interior designers broke into a timber loft and performed an extreme home makeover in the style of French country chateau, the result would be Jerry’s Sandwiches. Gilded antique lamps cast light on shiny tangles of colored beads, the yellow faux plaster paint job, and distressed wooden tables. Feather-bedizened Mardi Gras masks hang above the entrance to the dining room.

In the very back, tucked in a corner, is a peculiar trash can that might have been stolen from a Mexican McDonald’s, with “Gracias” emblazoned across the front of the flip-style lid.

Jerry’s is the handiwork of Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler, self professed sandwich lovers who, according to their website, have eaten at “delis in New York, cheese steak stands in Philly, hoagie shops in Pittsburgh, barbecue stands in Tennessee, various New Orleans muffaletta and po’ boy locales, Zingerman’s great deli in Ann Arbor, and bars in France.” Mindy helms the counter, while Mark—his trademark Andre Agassi circa 1990 locks flowing over the neck of his chef’s jacket—will often pop out front to check on the level of the soup of the day.

Jerry’s peddles food of love. Mindy and Mark’s attention to detail set Jerry’s apart: using an iceberg and arugula lettuce blend for both crunch and flavor; smoking meats and fish in a log burning smoker; whipping up homemade condiments like chipotle chutney and tomato-basil relish.

The sandwich menu is as eclectic as the décor, with 89 sandwiches named after family, friends, customers, cartoon characters, and celebrities. A sampling includes the “Marky B,” grilled marinated skirt steak, bacon, carmelized onion, and a house-made Roquefort dressing; the “Jimi H,” bacon, avocado, swiss, tomato-basil relish, and chipotle chutney; and for the veggie inclined, the “Iris D,” portabellas, provolone, giardinera, and southwest mayo.

You can also design your own sandwich from hundreds of individual ingredients. All of Jerry’s sandwiches are served on locally baked bread from D’Amatos or Red Hen, cold or grilled to order, with a side of the day such as curried cole slaw or new potato salad, all for $7.

The highlights are the weekly specials, which range from a winey coq au vin to crunchy buttermilk fried green tomatoes. There is almost always a New Orleans style po’ boy available, or if you have a hankering for a Central Grocery-style muffaletta, try the Nola O with Jerry’s house made olive spread.

In the summer, there is a tangy summer gazpacho with fat pieces of avocado, red onion, and assorted veggies, one of the best in the city. Jerry’s also serves an assortment of salads, quiche, chili, speciality sodas, and desserts including eastern European rugelach.

Jerry’s Sandwiches and Café is located at 1045 W. Madison Street. Phone is 312.563.1008. Hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 am to 6:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 am to 4 pm.