If there is one culture in the world that is known for being in love with food, I would say that the Italian or French would have to duke it out. The elegance of fine French dining versus the rustic simplicity of a hearty Italian festa di alimento. Personally, I love both, but if I had to pick a winner in my heart, it would be the land of pizza and pannettone. This might be down to my love for Chicago Italian food staples like Italian beef and giardiniera, but they just make food that makes my heart and stomach sing arias. Thankfully, Chicago has plenty of eateries to cater to my tastes, but my girlfriend told me about one I had never heard about before. It is called Bombacigno’s or J and C Inn (or Bambolobambo as my girlfriend says in perfect Italian). It’s located right by Union Station which makes it a great place to get a first taste of Chicago’s Italian American community beyond just Little Italy.
Their lunch hours are quite short (11 am to 3 pm), so the rush is quite intense if you don’t time it just right like we did. The outside was very nondescript. However, when we walked in, we were greeted with an interior straight out of one of the Little Italy delis I used to hit up when I was in grad school at UIC, i.e. old school with linoleum floors, a dark wood bar, and the daily specials handwritten on the board in chalk. Plus, there was enough nostalgic knick-knacks on the walls of times long past in Holllywood and Chicago to make it seem like an amateur museum of the Italian-American experience in Chicago and classic B movies.
Looking over the menu, we could eventually decipher that they had a mix of cold sandwiches, salads, soups, hot sandwiches, and grilled sandwiches. NOTE: They do not take credit cards. Cash only! I wanted something with roots in Italy, so I went for a foccacia sub ($7.25) and a side of cottage fries ($2.75). Janice got a caprese sandwich ($8.75) which came with a cold pasta salad on the side. Contrary to what other reviewers say, the staff was friendly and helpful, not rude and obnoxious. You have to wait to hear them shout out your order, and then you can take your order to your table or to go. I couldn’t wait to eat mine when they called out our names. It all looked as fantastic as a Lamborghini on an open Tuscan road with no speed limit. First, I just got to say that these were some of the best looking and tasting sandwiches I’ve tried. From the fresh tomatoes atop the fresh and chewy focaccia bread to the expertly layered ham, capicola (gobbagool or Capicola ham for those gavones out there), salami, and provolone cheese, it was a true Italian masterpiece. The key ingredient that set this meal apart from other sandwiches was the Italian vinaigrette that provided a semi-sweet and sour splash of flavor that cut through the mostly salty and mild ingredients. It kept me wanting more and more until it was all gone before I knew it. I highly recommend this sandwich, and the cottage fries satiated me greatly as well. They aren’t fries in the traditional potato spear form but rather like irregular, hand-cut potato disks (cottage fries takes less time to say I guess). I really enjoyed them because they ranged from small and extremely crispy to as big as my face and soft. Plus, they weren’t super greasy which is a big factor for me when judging the quality of fries. I had a bite of Janice’s sandwich which was basically a caprese salad between two slices of Italian sliced white bread. It had the same tart, dark vinaigrette that was on my focaccia, and the ingredients (buffalo mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, and sliced tomatoes) were all in harmony.
If you’re looking for a quality Italian restaurant that goes beyond Little Italy or is more subtle than the over-the-top presentation of Italian Village, check out Bambacigno’s!