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Big Trouble Over Huge Sandwich

(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.

Categories: Food and Drink

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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6 replies

  1. Scraping on State Street: A Year of Macy’s

    (Photo: “It’s that ABC news van again…”.) It’s generally not a good sign when the ABC news van is parked in front of your establishment in the middle of the business day. So it was on Monday, as I…

  2. Last month, for my 26th birthday, my friend and I had lunch at Eleven City Diner — while I had the corned beef sandwich; my friend ate the Marshall Field’s sandwich, and he felt the same way: much too dry. He also didn’t understand what “open faced” meant. Apparently, in his mind, he thought one had to “open” his own face to get such a large sandwich into his mouth.

    I totally reccomend the kreplach, but the matzoh balls were lacking. Egg cream was quite nice too.

    If they change the name, maybe just calling it a “Chicago Marshall’s” might be displaced enough of a name to not cause problems with corporate legal.

  3. I grew up on egg creams, myself. Every weekend I’d ask my mom to take me down to the then-faded (and now long-gone) Bernieland, an old-school soda fountain up Kew Gardens Road in Queens, for an egg cream. Of course, I never actually said “Bernieland” because, for whatever reason, I never heard anyone refer to the place by anything other than “Dirty Bernie’s”. I have no idea why and at this point I think Id be afraid to learn the reason.

    As I learned last Friday, phosphates are way better, anyway 🙂

  4. Macy’s is…okay. Not great, but okay. If you spend enough money there they’ll send you an invitation to a private fashion show on a closed floor with live models, a live DJ, and lots of free cocktails. At least that’s what they do here in SF. I’m really looking forward to the Bloomingdale’s opening in a few weeks, though.

    At any rate, those chocolate phosphates sound really good…I haven’t had one of those since I was a kid at the old soda fountain at the now-gone pharmacy at the end of my street.

  5. This behavior by Federated really strikes me as something that would be more appropriate for a New York City business environment. You know: shoot first; ask questions later. Brash and ballsy are fine in Chicago, but you’ve got to communicate that intent in a much more soft-pedaled manner if you really want to get your way. I do think Federated will eventually get over this whole “we know what’s good for you” attitude about Chicago, though. If the popularity of my innocent post from Wednesday proves anything, it’s that Chicago is watching–closely.

    At least Federated now knows how closely.

  6. Mike,
    My favorite part about the Federated cease-and-desist letter is how they are acting “to protect (their) trademark.” Protect it how? They are throwing it away! By pulling this stunt against a business who doesn’t operate in their line of business (and thus whose use would likely not endanger their trademark), they are not making a good first impression. If they are so concerned about their rights, then why not just discreetly offer to license the name for that limited purpose?

    Of course, should we expect anything less from the company that labeled a line of underwear “I. Magnin” to “protect” the name from being used by a group of private equity investors who wanted to start a store using the long-since-mothballed name?

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