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Bites: The Pastrami Sandwich @ Jeff and Jude's

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

This is the most difficult sandwich in Chicago.

I mean that quite literally: Jeff & Jude’s pastrami sandwich is truly difficult to eat. It’s strikingly tensile: the rye is supremely crusty, its center boasting the hard chew of a country loaf; the meat is much closer in texture to jerky than the usual deli meat jello, requiring hard, long chews. It takes forever to eat; it may damage the roof of your mouth. It asks more of you; it makes you--not the creator nor the ingredients--work for it.

But that’s also what puts it in contention for the best sandwich in Chicago. It’s pleasures are not simple but aggressive; occasionally, they’re even aggravating. The bark is noticeable on the meat, similar in form and appearance to that of Texas-style brisket, only this one has a very pronounced--tingly, almost--splash of juniper; the mustard slathered on top--the only other component--is fine-grained to the point of sandy and very, very sharp. Both need to be, because the bread is both revelation and revolution: ashy and crusty and very clearly an attention hog. You actually have to stop and think about chewing.

It’s the Tusk or Infinite Jest of sandwiches: difficult, iconoclastic, entirely its own thing.

It’s not until you eat it do you realize how necessary this is. The Chicago School of Sandwiches--say, the Italian Beef or the Breaded Steak Sandwich--is Miesian in its dedication to mush (i.e., fat and dairy on a soft roll) and somewhat miserly about, you know, flavor, cohesion, balance; it’s kinda baby food-ish. (Having a bunch of Wisconsin butter burgers soon after J&J’s only confirms as much.). Like Big Kids (more on them soon), Ursula Siker, the chef and owner of J&J’s, seems to innately understand this, because her other takes on deli standbys seem laser-focused on finding essential improvements to what nostalgia alone can’t fix: the addition of curry into the slurry of a tuna melt gives it a lasting savory note that the mush lacks elsewhere; the addition of what I presume to be potato starch and the use of a deep fryer place her latkes somewhere between the German style of potato pancake and Japanese tempura, giving primacy to crunch (rather than, say, grease). Her food has an identity, a point of view; more importantly, and most especially the pastrami sandwich, it’s a lasting one--even if it defeats you before you can finish it.

More of this. Please.

Jeff & Jude’s

1024 N Western Ave

Chicago IL 60622

Phone: (773) 661-1227

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