C.B.A. Chicago Bagel Authority. Enough said. Oh. My. God. I know what you’re thinking, “bagels? really? boring.” Rest easy because it’s not simply a bagel place. Oh no, it’s so much more than a bagel place. Steamed bagel sandwiches. That’s right. Steamed, mmm, such a sexy word. Steam. I’m getting hungry again and I’m fairly certain I’ve yet to digest my last sandwich from this blessed place. We first got wind of this place by walking the wrong direction on Armitage attempting to meet friends for dinner at a nearby tapas restaurant. Seeing the sandwiches being prepared through the window was enough to stop us in our tracks and set the intention to visit the establishment soon. And so we did.
C.B.A., as it’s affectionately known to Chicago residents, is situated just steps west from the Armitage (New location on Belmont! Right near the EL station) Brown/Purple line stop, in the heart of Lincoln Park. Probably one of the most charming areas of the city, with beautiful Amsterdam-like architecture, tree-lined streets, and a plethora of boutiques and restaurants, to suit any taste. Just upon entering C.B.A. you’re greeted with a waft of delicious smells you can almost taste. Meat and cheese mainly, but other goodies as well. It has a very casual charm, exposed brick lining the interior, a few rectangular high tables toward the back and a couple cozy booths perched next to the windows, mostly inhabited by moms and toddlers. Avoid it weekday late mornings, later afternoon is best as that’s when the children and moms are napping. There are random photos, drawings, and subtle odes to the Ohio State University Buckeyes, as the owners are from Ohio. No need to worry Wolverine fans, it’s a subtle homage, almost lazy in it’s execution, which adds to it’s charm, so damn casual. The staff is very friendly, at any time of day, and are composed of mostly young, relaxed bagophiles. There’s some cute ladies for the men to enjoy and one AHdorable gentleman, who despite being with my husband I make a bee line for each visit. C.B.A. is no doubt ripe with delicious meat.
The menu is broken down by the type of meat, including 7-10 veggie options that hold their weight against any meaty selection. There’s also a breakfast menu and the option to simply pick a basic bagel, prepared in-house, including a wide variety of spreads and bagels with specific flavors, whatever you fancy. There are easily 50 sandwich choices, all come steamed, and they’re described in chicken scratch on 3 large chalk boards behind the employees. For the convenience of those with regular sight, or worse, they provide menus at the bar where the sandwich artists line up and you simply let them know you’re selection, pay the cashier, be sure to tip and go anxiously wait for what will be a life-changing sandwich.
Now, at this point I’ve had at least 10 of their sandwiches, including breakfast, veggie, and at least one from each meat column. None of them, zero, have been bad or even mediocre. All have made me make the “O” face. Today, for the first time, I ordered a sandwich I’d had in the past. It’s called the Messy Katy. It’s not even on the chalk board! It’s turkey, sliced ever so thin and piled generously with avocado, tomato, sprouts, cream cheese, honey mustard, and here’s the kicker, steamed on Bialy. What’s Bialy? Those familiar with bigger cities, New York in particular, will be well acquainted with baily and all its glory. The shortest way to describe it is a bagel hooked up with an english muffin and had nothing short than the bread equivalent of a Brangelina type child. There’s no hole, its not steamed and then baked, just baked. I think. Ah, well. It’s the perfect texture and flavor for a sandwich, slightly salty, soft enough, not too thick for the sandwich and it’s co-habitants. All sandwiches have adorably clever names like the DePaul Ruben, Hide the Salami, the Ritz and so on. Again, all are highly satisfying, cleverly designed, the flavors complimenting each other perfectly and the accompanying bagel flavor perfectly snuggling and rounding out each bite. Most importantly, they’re made with love. The employees seem sincerely jazzed about their little hole in the wall and love to share in their customer’s enthusiasm.
The good people of C.B.A. gave their labor of love a name befitting of their product. They are the authority on bagels here in Chicago. We’ve made it a weekly trip. They have free wifi for customers, a cooler of tasty beverages to wash down your even tastier grub, and a selection of high quality potato chips with accompanying flavors, and for real fatty’s like myself, uber fantastic rice krispie treats, smore cereal bars, and large chocolate chip cookies. You can consume the food pyramid in one sitting and I encourage you to do so. Prices range from 5-7 bucks a sandwich, well worth it. They have a punch card for frequent customers. I hit my free sandwich milestone today.
Everyone’s life could be steamier. This is a great place to start. Enjoy.