“Why is your turkey sandwich so good?”
That is, essentially, what I texted Jason Hammel, the chef and owner of Chicago’s Lula Cafe.
Lula is a neighborhood joint that isn’t really one. Over its twenty years, it has developed a city-wide cult following for its thoughtful, ingredient-driven cooking while retaining the welcoming vibes of a Logan Square spot you might wander into on a Tuesday afternoon or Thursday night.
These days, as Hammel explains, its main dinner menu offers up things like ground cherries and lamb ribs and chanterelles and gai lan and fermented squash. But the cafe menu reaches back to Lula’s original incarnation, and you can order the turkey sandwich, which Lula has served since Year One, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The key to the sandwich’s staying power, I learned, is how considered every element is. How, like everything served at Lula, provenance matters, as does technique, and most importantly, balance. It’s the kind of sandwich you bite into, and it all just makes sense. No one element dominates—they all just complement each other.
So, about those details. Let’s let Hammel the texter explain:
“multigrain sourdough bread from Publican Quality Bread (Paul Kahan’s place), lightly toasted in rice bran oil on a griddle.
turkey brined and roasted in house from Ferndale Farm (MN).
slices of ‘mighty vine tomatoes’— a greenhouse tomato project based here in IL.
super fine shaved red onion, rinsed in ice water.
avocado with lime and salt.
lettuces from Werp Farm in Northern MI.
hot sauce aioli (house made garlic mayo with a Vietnamese hot sauce)
bacon from broadbent farm
classic mild cheddar cheese”
No, not exactly how you or I might make a turkey sandwich. Which is exactly why we—and so many Chicagoans—line up to go to Lula Cafe, the neighborhood joint that isn’t really one.