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Monday, April 22

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My New Year's resolution for 2004 is to resist the temptation of going out for lunch during the work-week, and instead bring lunch from home. I figure this is a fool-proof plan: I will save money, eat healthier, and not have any excuse to venture outside into the winter wonderland of Chicago.

But with L'Appetito in the basement of my office building, I'm having a hell of a time making good on my promise for change.

Three weeks ago, the company that I work for moved to a new office building -- from a high rise in the West Loop to the John Hancock Center. At first, I was entirely disappointed with the lunch choices on the Mag Mile. I was used to having my run of a variety of spots in the Loop and had become quite spoiled with the diversity of cuisines available to me.

But in the Hancock building there didn't seem to be many viable options. The Chipotle and Indian Garden on Ontario are decent, but too far of a trek in the snow; FoodLife and Flat Sammies are astoundingly overpriced; and even if I wanted to grab a bite at The Cheesecake Factory, the horde of tourists literally camped outside at all hours of the day is enough to make me lose my appetite.

Because I thought North Michigan Avenue was seriously wanting of palatable, decently-priced restaurants come high noon, I was certain my resolution was going to be a piece of cake. That was before I discovered L'Appetito. Now, I'm eating my words.

L'Appetito touts itself as an Italian deli and wine shop, but as someone who once enjoyed breakfast, lunch, and dinner there all in the same day, I can confidently declare that it is so much more. Sometimes I will order an espresso and fresh cinnamon scone to go in the morning; I habitually stop in on my lunch break to savor a made-to-order grilled panini with pastrami and melted havarti and provolone cheeses in the café; and I've also been known to swing by on my way out after work to pick up a package of homemade raviolis and a bold, Italian red for dinner. No matter how many times a day I find myself cruising down the wine aisle or contemplating the ever-changing flavors in the gelato case, the staff always acts genuinely happy to see me.

My first visit to L'Appetito was an overwhelming experience. The deli counter is run much like that of a supermarket: Customers take a number and hover around the counter waiting to order until their number is called. I clutched my number and stared up at the menu trying to decide what to order as the staff worked furiously to keep up with the orders. I was so intent on perusing the menu that I actually missed my turn and ended up causing quite a commotion when my mistake was discovered. I was so flustered that I ended up ordering the first thing I could think of: a smoked ham and swiss submarine sandwich.

A ham and cheese sub might seem like a boring thing to order, especially considering the impressive spread of meats and cheeses laid before me in the refrigerator case. But if you've ever had a sub at L'Appetito, you know that this isn't so. Piles of tasty meat and thick slices of fresh swiss cheese are layered between slices of a long, soft sesame roll. The sandwich is then spread with mayo and topped with tomato and shredded lettuce, vinegar and olive oil and spices. L'Appetito somehow nails the perfect ratio between bread and meat, between oil and zest. And at only $4.50 each (plus tax), I can easily call this the best sub in the city.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my ham and cheese, by now I have experimented with a variety of meats in the sub -- including genoa salami, mortadella and Italian roast beef -- and have yet to be disappointed. After eating the subs for a few days straight, I moved on to the tostinos (flat, grilled sandwiches), which I would enthusiastically recommend especially since they are so cheap (between $3 and $4.75); my current favorite is the Rosina -- prosciutto cotto, roasted red peppers, and fresh mozzarella melted between two toasted slices of bread.

Although I am admittedly addicted to L'Appetito's sandwiches, I refuse to give them a positive review for all of their offerings. The minestrone soup is a mess of huge chuncks of undercooked vegetables swimming in a salty broth. And the crowd of regulars ordering coffee drinks in the morning is not in any way due to the fact that the espresso bar is above average; rather, I think it has more to do with the fact that there really isn't any close coffee bar around the Hancock Center. To be honest, the coffee is neither strong nor flavorful.

Yet, despite these misgivings, I find myself standing outside of L'Appetito willing myself not to go inside (and therefore negate my New Year's vow). It's funny: Last year, I resolved to quit smoking and was surprisingly successful. But this year, the thing I am swearing to give up is neither expensive nor hazardous to my health. Ironically, I'm not sure just how successful I will be at following through on my New Year's Resolution this time.

L'Appetito is located at 875 N. Michigan Ave. in the John Hancock Center. A second location is nearby at 30 East Huron Street. There is a $5 minimum for credit cards.

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Comments

Naz / January 12, 2004 10:09 AM

L'Appetito was an old and common staple when the office was at 900 N. Michigan. My co-workers and I, or even myself when getting lunch to go, would stop in frequently.

I suggest the three kinds of pizza they have as supergood as well and their panini's are excellent as well. Both are a good value for money. Follow that up with some sort of sweets from the bakery/patisserie side and you got yourself a full meal for about 5 bucks. A good deal.

a fellow hancockite / January 12, 2004 10:57 AM

I've worked in the Hancock for a couple years and though I agree L'App is a deal I've grown weary of it. The Cream of Broc soup is amazing though. And when I really need a treat I love their Mexican Hot Chocolate. As far as coffee goes the Intelligentsia coffee they have outside Foodlife is pretty damn good and the coffee bar there has an amazing chocolate pudding for only $1.50- which I think is a real deal. Also there is a small grocery store (with tiny deli) on the 44th floor of the Hancock that is open to all office tenants.

nnnikki / January 12, 2004 1:13 PM

there's another l'app (the original, i think) at huron and wabash, which was the ground floor of *my* old office building, which has an extensive bakery selection, too...the pine nut cookies are sublime (may lightning strike me down for this), far exceeding my grandmother's version in tastiness and amaretto/almond paste smoothness. give it a go. also, while you're at it: forget the gelato and have at the spumoni.

payton / January 13, 2004 3:44 AM

Mmm, L'Appetito. Even after I switched to a job in the Loop, I'd still make the trip back to the Hancock (or, more likely, 30 W. Huron) for the tostinos, the San Pellegrino (cheapest downtown I've found), and some pasta to take home. They also carry some more obscure ingredients, like panna da cucina -- a non-sweetened cooking cream for white sauces -- and locally made pasta.

And hey, don't bash my forest fruits gelato! I agree that the pastries and coffee aren't fantastic, and the salad bar selections aren't very interesting.

 

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