A Squared: Lunch in the Loop: Blackwood BBQ & Mercato

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lunch in the Loop: Blackwood BBQ & Mercato

I'm always on the hunt for good lunch options in the Loop and it can be tough to weed through the chain burger, sandwich, and burrito joints to find them. It seems like the Chicago restaurant gods have been listening recently though because some real fast casual gems have popped up and I'm impressed. I'm sharing two new finds with you today that could really put my brown bag habit in jeopardy!

Blackwood BBQ
The Loop

For the last few months, I have walked by Blackwood every morning on my way to work and the smell of their smoker has had my dying to stop in. This place serves up pretty legit barbecue in a fast casual environment-- the perfect way to satisfy a barbecue craving during your lunch hour. The food here is assembled in a line as you like it (a la Chipotle) and there are a ton of delicious options. You first select your meat: pulled pork or chicken or beef brisket and then how you'd like to eat it-- as a sandwich, platter, or salad. Then you get to choose from a variety of regionally-inspired barbecue sauces like the mustardy South Carolina-style that I chose for my pulled pork salad or the spicy Kansas City-style that my husband chose for his brisket sandwich. Alex loved that the staff asked him if he preferred he brisket on the leaner or fattier side, a choice you don't often get to make, but one that can definitely affect how much you enjoy your meal. Each meal is served with a side dish of your choice. They serve BBQ joint favorites like mac and cheese, cornbread, baked beans, and coleslaw on the side. We were both really impressed with the quality of our meal at Blackwood. This fast casual lunch was tastier and more flavorful than we have experienced at some other sit down BBQ joints around the city, which is super impressive given how quickly you can get in and out the door here.
Blackwood BBQ on Urbanspoon

Mercato at Urban Market
The Loop

Last week I met up with Kit from The Kittchen for lunch at a new spot in the Loop that I will definitely be visiting again!

I have often heard about the food court in the lower level of the Chase Building (which is only a few blocks from my office), but this was my first actual visit. And shame on me! Not only is there a huge salad bar and a Tortas Frontera by Chef Rick Bayless at Urban Market, but just recently celebrity chef Fabio Viviani opened Mercato here as well. And he's officially changed the fast casual lunch game in the Loop!

Mercato's menu is full of the delicious flavors and dishes that I fell in love with at chef Fabio's Siena Tavern, but available in a quick, casual, and takeout-friendly location. Some of the menu items available here are unique to Mercato, while others have been borrowed right from Siena Tavern's menu. I was so excited to see my favorite Tuscan Kale Caesar Salad topped with sun-dried tomatoes and ciabatta croutons packaged up and ready to go at Mercato. This is an exciting alternative for those days when I haven't packed a lunch and need a healthy and filling takeout option.

Also on the menu: Pizza, of course! Mercato has several pizza options available. They offer a variety of pizza squares like the four cheese or pepperoni below. These are some of the quickest options available at Mercato and with a thicker focaccia-like crust, they make a fast, filling, and tasty lunch.

If you're in the market for something a little larger (maybe to share or take a few slices home for later?), Mercato also bakes up whole pies in their pizza oven as well! These pizzas have a thinner crust and also come with a variety of toppings. Kit and I both loved the unique combination of pesto, white beans, avocado, and pulled pork that we tried. The toppings were definitely not your typical pizza fixings, but the combination was so different and delicious!

Last, but by no means least, Mercato also features a made to order gnocchi and pasta bar. The pasta and the gnocchi are made fresh daily with recipes specially crafted by chef Fabio.

Kit and I have both had (and loved) the gnocchi in truffle sauce at Siena Tavern, so we decided to get an order of gnocchi at Mercato and compare. While truffle sauce wasn't an option here, Mercato does offer a four cheese sauce, pork ragu, and the bolognese, which was what we decided on. The gnocchi was just as tender as I remembered at Siena Tavern and the sauce was super rich with big chunks of meat. It was really kind of surprising that something that tasted that slow cooked and flavorful was served at a fast casual restaurant.

Now that I have been to Mercato, I fully intend to abandon my brown bad a little more often, leave my office, and venture over to the Chase Building. This entire meal (or even just one dish, like a normal person might eat) was well worth the trip!
Urban Market Chicago on Urbanspoon
Editor's note: Lunch at Mercato was provided to me at no cost. The opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.

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  1. great finds!! i dont go out to eat very often for lunch but it always nice to see a tasty new spot in the loop! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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