For whatever reasons, there are some ingredients that come stamped “Thanksgiving only.” And while the past few years have seen pumpkin spice bust out of that corral at the speed of basic light, we should be enjoying all these seasonal flavors year ’round, yeah?
While Press Grill is the go-to joint for the entire Thanksgiving she-bang every Thursday night, there are a number of other eateries in town that celebrate the soul-soothing flavors of November on their menus each and every day.
Side Dish Reboot: Red Masher Grilled Cheese
The Tavern • 889 Oak St.
I’ve got to say, this mash-up (couldn’t resist) of comfort favorites is, erm, weird. I could use some fancy adjective here, but the bottom line is the first few bites are bottom-line weird. A swath of red mashed potatoes, peppered with bacon bits and tossed with broccoli is napped with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese and tucked in between slices of sourdough bread. Sounds a-ma-zing, right? And it is… after a minute. The squishy texture takes one aback initially, more from instinct than dislike. It’s a bit freakish to be biting into a carb cloud—the sandwich category in the brain is conditioned for certain sandwich textures, whether the primal ripping of meat, or the throwback elementary gooey-ness of a grilled cheese. But this pillow bite is a whole new entry into the sensory card catalogue.
After a few bites, however, the poetry of the sandwich begins to present itself. The sourdough has enough of a tang to get frisky with the safety of the mashed potato filling and the bacon is, as always, a salty power player. Shards of broccoli can be spotted here and there, poking its green curls out of the potatoes, and is cooked al dente, so it doesn’t join the mashers in soft company, and seems as if the relatively covert addition is a trick to get you to eat your vegetables. The sandwich is a tasty mascot for The Tavern itself—a neighborhood spot with booths as easy to slide into as dipping into the coziness of this stitched-together sandwich.
Main Course Onesie: Village Addiction
Brown Bag Deli • 898 Mohawk St.
This sammie is a classic with a capital city “C.” When visiting the German Village corner deli, I am hard-pressed to order something else (though the Cuban is fantastic, as is the Black & Bleu, and the soups du jour… well, maybe I do order from all over the menu). It’s like Thanksgiving dinner decided that the whole drawn-out dramatic meal just took too damn long, and why not hold an executive meeting with all main players and funnel them into one juicy bite? Cranberry sweet-tart mayo meets turkey breast meets Havarti cheese—all in one bite. Havarti, while not the strongest of cheeses, provides a soft, lush texture with just enough nutty creaminess to echo the subtle flavor of the turkey breast. The star though is the cranberry mayo. The sour cran is mellowed by the mayo so it doesn’t steal any thunder from its sandwich friends, but instead adds just a little “woot!” of taste. The Brown Bag makes a pleasant, low-key fall afternoon sojourn—just up the street from Schiller Park with all its gorgeous foliage. Service is always kind, although sometimes a little backed-up during peak hours, and the small space is filled with walls of chips, blackboards seducing with specials, and a cooler stocked with cold drinks. And the walls are orange, which fits perfectly with the autumn theme.
Dual Dish: Sweet Potato Crock
The Eagle • 790 N High St.
Technically a side dish, this eats more like a dessert so you can double-up on the sweets in one sitting and feel no guilt. In a nutshell: A) I am in love with anything that comes in its own individual cast iron crock, and B) I love marshmallows. Yet, I grew up with a Thanksgiving tradition that did not feature this particular homey highlight. Honestly, the first time I tried this childish marriage of sweet potato and marshmallow was a few weeks ago when reaching across the table to take a bite off a friend’s order. I mean, really, who orders sweet potatoes and marshmallows with a straight face? This girl right here, from now on. Part of me is steam-top mad I was denied this oh-so-American mélange for so long, and for what? Creamed onions? Pfft. To make up for lost time, I will be ordering this root vegetable meets baby ’mallows, which have been toasted on top for that blackened campfire flavor, any time I visit this newish Short North casual stop.