Price Point: $8.99 for chicken Parmesan sub at Nonna’s; $12 on Formento’s lunch menu
The same characteristics that make chicken Parmesan such a soul-satisfying dish as an entree—the hearty pool of bright red tomato sauce and blanket of stretchy mozzarella—make it a such a potentially hazardous sandwich. While it almost always looks impressive, after a few seconds the onslaught of wet ingredients leave the bread soggy and the fried cutlet oily. Wait more than a minute and everything congeals into one even layer of mush. No thanks.
Nonna’s (nonnaschicago.com) in the West Loop solves this dilemma in two ways. First, the restaurant uses a shatteringly crisp and sturdy ciabatta roll, which shrugs off the wet ingredients with ease. Second, instead of a bland chicken breast, the restaurant goes with flavorful chicken thighs, which stay surprisingly juicy, even when buried under the sauce. The result is a sandwich of distinct textures, with a bright, acidic sauce playing off the salty Parmesan crust.
This sandwich feels right at home at Nonna's, a tiny takeaway shop that shares a kitchen with the new Italian-American spot, Formento’s (925 W. Randolph St., 312-690-7295; formentos.com). But I didn't know that you can also find the chicken Parmesan on Formento's lunch menu. You’ll pay more and feel a little odd digging into such a messy sandwich with all the white tablecloths around, but after one bite you’ll forget any manners and dig in with abandon.