Big Trouble Over Huge Sandwich

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(Photo: Food just like Bubbe used to defend in court? Credit: Eleven City Diner.)

Yesterday, the Macy’s on State Street signage troubles that I uncovered weren’t the only public-relations blunder dogging the Cincinnati-based department store giant, Federated. Full-court press also went to the South Loop’s Eleven City Diner–for daring to serve a sandwich named after the (let’s face it) defunct Marshall Field’s. A big sandwich. A huge sandwich. A sandwich as big as your head. A sandwich I had for lunch today when I visited the trendy downtown diner.

According to the Trib, diner owner Brad Rubin created the “Marshall Field’s Special” after a similar sandwich served at the Walnut Room, Field’s storied old store restaurant. Trouble is, Federated, the new owner of Field’s, think that the sandwich name infringes upon their newly bought trademark–so they sent the trendy deli a cease-and-desist letter. Hmm. I have news for Federated: just because they don’t know their State Street store’s correct street address, the average Chicagoan, upon seeing that name on a menu, is not going to wonder whether Macy’s has suddenly relocated to the corner of Wabash and 11th.

But on to the sandwich. It’s still on the diner’s menu, which hasn’t yet been updated to erase the “Field’s” name, though according to diner staff, they’re willing to take suggestions. (The “Carpetbagger”, anyone?) Pretty much an open-faced turkey club on steroids, the plate comes piled with half a foot of turkey, swiss, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and bacon, on two thousand-island-dressing slathered pieces of rye bread. It’s a great, Lower East Side of Manhattan idea for a sandwich. If only it weren’t so dry. A better idea would be to slather the entire sandwich with the dressing, like a Reuben (I had to ask for more dressing on the side). And serving it with a proper knife would help too–it’s not easy cutting into six inches of sanwich with a butter knife.

Still, not bad for eleven bucks and it definitely hit the spot. And it was sly fun the way the servers have turned the ordering of the sandwich into a clandestine game of spy-vs.-spy until they find a new name for it (“You want what sandwich? We don’t call it that anymore. Whisper it, I’ll see what I can do…”).

Truly phenomenal, however, were the two consecutive, perfectly fizzy chocolate phosphates I ordered (one to drink with my mountain o’sandwich, one to go), made by a real-live soda jerk. I probably won’t be back for the legally challenged sandwich, but I do intend to make friendly with the soda counter in the very near future.

All in all, I felt I performed a civic duty over lunch. But next time I’ll try the Reuben. Now that’s the true test of a real urban deli. If you want to know more about Eleven City Diner, you’re better off checking out their Metromix entry than the restaurant’s surprisingly still under-construction website (they opened six months ago). But it’s definitely worth a visit, if only for the feeling of being, momentarily, illicit.

As for Federated, your flagship Chicago store is being re-christened against the wishes of many Chicagoans in eight days. If I were you, I’d pay a little closer attention to your public relations campaign. Think: more store clerks and cheaper prices; not careless signage and legal threats. Perhaps your CEO, Terry Lundgren, has been working too hard?

For this harried honcho, perhaps a nice, relaxing trip down to Eleven City Diner to lay into an unnamed turkey club while poring over a Chicago street map is in order.

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