"I found this place by typing in 'sandwich' on Google."
This was the rather astonishing statement a patron gave TriBecca's Sandwich Shop co-owners/married couple Becca Grothe and Cam Waron during a recent visit to the Avondale spot.
And it was interesting, because the young man who let his fingers do the walking the modern way wasn't the only newcomer, although there were plenty of regulars as well. I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, those patrons will return.
Why? Because (based on what I sampled), TriBecca's sandwiches are pretty tasty.
The story of TriBecca's begins in central IllinoisGalesburg, to be precise. "I grew up there and my mom made things like the horseshoe, which originated in Springfield. [The horseshoe sandwich traditionally has two slices of toasted Texas toast topped with meat, a pile of crispy French fries and homemade cheese sauce.] And our MaidWrong sandwich [Slagel Farm ground beef, yellow mustard, onions, Muenster cheese and steak sauce aioli on a buttery bun] is based on an Iowa loose-meat sandwich/chain restaurant called the Maid-Rite."
But Grothe was inspired by another sandwich as well: the Cubano. "I used to work in the Park Hyatt hotel and one of the sandwiches they did there was a Cubano," she said. "It was my favorite sandwich of all time. Ours is very flavorful, too; we use chipotle aioli, ham, local pork, Wisconsin cheese and a ciabatta bun from a local bakery. It's one of my favorite sandwiches, so why not put it on the menu?" [Side note: Grothe said, "I'm not Cuban but I like Cubanos," to which I said, "It's okay. I'm not Italian but I like pasta."]
Something you may not know is that TriBecca's actually has close ties with another popular restaurant: Honey Butter Fried Chicken. "I've worked with Josh [Kulp} and Christine [Cikowski], who own Honey Butter, for almost 10 years now. When they first opened Honey Butter at their Elston location, I worked at their Sunday Dinner Club as a sous chefand, to back even further, we went to culinary school [Kendall] together; that's where I met my husband, who's also the culinary director at Honey Butter. And that's how TriBecca's got started: I made my Cubano for the Sunday Dinner Club and they really liked it. So we had a pop-up at Revival Food Hall in 2018 for a few months; after I got back from maternity leave [from the first of two children], we looked for a permanent location. We officially opened TriBecca's in February 2022."
By the way, Waron is not standing on the sidelineshe has Tubers Donuts, which operates out of the same location. Unlike a lot of other donuts, his are potato-based (hence the name) and are fried in clarified butter, giving the sweets a distinctivebut amazingtaste. "He has all these wild ideasdifferent flavorful glazes and toppings," Grothe added.
However, it also turns out that Waron is also responsible for something else TriBecca's is known for: the names of its delightful (and large) breakfast sandwicheswhich happen to be the main characters of the TV classic The Golden Girls (Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia). "He's got a lot of good ideas," Grothe said. "We were just going to do four or five different sandwiches, and they're kind of inspired by the Golden Girls. Dorothy's from New York, so the sandwich has cheddar cheese, an everything bagel and mayoand with all the breakfast sandwiches, you get to choose if you want sausage, bacon or avocado. Rose is from the Midwest so we put tater tot on the sandwich. We even have little stickers with their faces on them."
And while most of the reviews of TriBecca's offerings have been stellar, there is the occasional criticism. One that stands out in particular was delivered by YouTube duo Number Six with Cheese; one of the guys said a TriBecca's breakfast sandwich tasted like "a vacuum bag." (To be fair, the duo has also praised the MaidWrong.) But how does Grothe handle it when a sandwich gets a "thumbs down?" Grothe said, "We reached out to them and apologized. It was disappointing because I wish we got a chance to remake their order. It was completely our fault, but everyone's entitled to their opinion and they didn't have a good experience. It was a learning experience for us and I'm always appreciative of people who don't have great experiences; it gives us a chance to fix things."
Criticism also can come in another form, as when some in the culinary arts may look down on sandwich artists. "To each his own," Grothe responded. "I think there's space for everybody. There's space for the fine-dining, Michelin-starred restaurants, and there's also space for sandwich shops. Also, no one's going to eat fine-dining items six days a week so you have to have some other options. As long as you're making your food with integrity and you're doing your best, what's wrong with a really delicious sandwich?"
As for what distinguishes TriBecca's from other sandwich spots, Grothe said, "Most of our sandwiches are Midwest-based and we really focus on procuring ingredients that are as local as possible to make the best-tasting sandwiches."
Something tells me the guy who found TriBecca's via the internet would probably agree.
TriBecca's Sandwich Shop is at 2949 W. Belmont Ave; visit www.tribeccas.com/ for more information.
Note: This visit was arranged.
More reviews, interviews and Chicago restaurant news are at future3733.substack.com .