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SAVOR The Lunchbox; Woodwind brunch
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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With social distancing and masks being part of the "new normal," some people are opting to places with more casual items that have grab-and-go choices.

Enter The Lunchbox ( 200 E. Chestnut St.; )—the order-and-go component of The Lunchroom, a small restaurant within the concept store SPACE 519 that's owned by business/life partners Jim Wetzel and Lance Lawson.

However, in this case, The Lunchbox's offerings are decidedly more upscale than the typical casual item. The menu ( which reflects a heavily European influence ) has sandwiches such as Bari's Italian, made with Tavern Ham, provolone, tomato, spicy giardiniera and mayo on ciabatta. I opted for the Turkey a la Herb, which has smoked Nueske's turkey breast and herbed cream cheese on organic wheat bread; it's a treat.

Salad options include the 519 Watermelon ( a tasty melange of cubed watermelon, feta, mint and sea salt ), 3 P's Pasta ( green pea, pine nut, pesto and penne ), Corner Deli Potato and Good Stuff Garden. There are also quiches, tarts and soups du jour ( and I hope you get to try the blueberry-almond tart ) as well as muffins, cupcakes, croissants and other pastries.

But the centerpiece of this menu is the wonderful pasta pie. At first, I was taken aback by what seemed like an excessive mix of ingredients ( spaghetti and parmesan crust, Italian sausage and fennel marina, topped with organic mozzarella )—but they came together beautifully, although I was careful to only eat a sliver at at time. Other special entrees include the corn flake chicken Milanese as the Cote D'or Nicoise.

You may want to check out The Lunchroom as well, for a nice outdoor, socially distant lunch. The cuisine will impress.

Woodwind brunch

On the other end of being social these days is having brunch at a spot like Woodwind ( 259 E. Erie St. 18th floor; ), which offers spectacular views of the city, intriguing cuisine—and, if you're lucky, even a charismatic server like Juan ( who sported some cool tats and actually referred to himself as "the Juan and only," believe it or not ).

First, reflecting what's currently happening in the world regarding pandemic guidelines, servers wore masks ( and gloves—which actually makes me more cautious, as one doesn't know how often those are changed ), tables were distanced appropriately on the spacious patio and the menus can be scanned onto your phone through the QR codes on the tables ( although paper menus are optional ).

Brunch ( 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekends ) was, overall, a wonderful affair. With my friend and I choosing rose wine and prosecco, respectively, we started with toast with honeyed ricotta—an absolutely delectable treat; my friend and I could've eaten the entire dish by ourselves.

What followed was another high point: the honeyed granola parfait, which featured layers of granola, blueberries and koji cream—which prompted my dining companion to proclaim, "All yogurt needs pastry cream." Considering how this dish tasted, I wholeheartedly agreed.

However, our paths diverged when it came to our entrees. I relished my crab omelette, which came with yuzu, leeks and caramelized cream; all the ingredients came together, and there were generous pieces of the crustacean throughout the egg dish. My friend was not nearly as enthusiastic about her avocado French toast ( which, honestly, sounded a little dicey to me, as it wasn't just "avocado toast" ). This dish was flavored with basil, salted caramel and lime—but it was a bit too much of the citrus fruit, my friend said. In fact, she said, the lime pretty much overwhelmed the rest of her dish.

Fortunately, things ended on a high note with a surprise presentation of cotton candy, flavored with lime, mint and raspberry. After my friend's experience with the French toast, we were both a little hesitant about the lime—but this was only lightly flavored, and it was an absolute delight.

People might be taken aback by the location of the restaurant, being in a medical building. ( My friend said that she's been in the building a couple times and never knew a restaurant was there. ) However, rest assured that you'll have a memorable time at Woodwind.

Note: Profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.

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