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updated: 7/29/2014 2:21 PM

Elmhurst's Zenwich achieves culinary yin and yang

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  • The Bryanism sandwich and gingered coleslaw grace a table at Zenwich in Elmhurst.

       The Bryanism sandwich and gingered coleslaw grace a table at Zenwich in Elmhurst.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • A delightful cucumber salad and seasoned chips are solid partners for Zenwich's Joesplosion, a spicy chicken sandwich that can also be ordered as a lettuce wrap.

       A delightful cucumber salad and seasoned chips are solid partners for Zenwich's Joesplosion, a spicy chicken sandwich that can also be ordered as a lettuce wrap.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • As evidenced by its signature Zen Salad, Zenwich is more than just sandwiches.

       As evidenced by its signature Zen Salad, Zenwich is more than just sandwiches.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Big, bold, inventive Asian-leaning flavors come from Zenwich, a tiny sandwich shop on Elmhurst's north side.

       Big, bold, inventive Asian-leaning flavors come from Zenwich, a tiny sandwich shop on Elmhurst's north side.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

Can a sandwich change your life?

It can when it's a Bryanism, aka pork katsu, from Zenwich, a tiny spot tucked into a York Avenue strip mall on Elmhurst's north side.

OK, maybe that's giving a bit too much credit to the Asian-leaning hoagies that I enjoyed during a recent lunchtime visit, but I'm telling you, a meal at this busy, counter-service eatery with just a handful of tables will alter your sandwich reality.

Zenwich opened in 2009 by husband-and-wife duo Nate and Katie Nakasatian. The two put in several years at top restaurants in the area before setting up this popular East-meets-West between the buns place.

Their commitment to bold flavor and high quality shines through with every bite. Each component of the pork katsu sandwich swings in sync with the others: the crunch of the breaded pork balances against the tender bite of the roll on which it rests; a tangy Japanese-tinged barbecue sauce and mustard accent the sandwich without overpowering the crunchy slaw and baby greens.

The Joesplosion is a wonder of curry-marinated grilled chicken smothered in a homemade peanut satay sauce. Shredded carrot and cucumber provide the yin to the jalapeņo and red onion's yang.

I could find no fault with the spicy chicken on feature that afternoon. Threads of fresh basil accented the spicy spread. Bite-after-bite, my mouth curled into a bigger smile.

Those with gluten issues or avoiding carbohydrates will be happy to learn that all the sandwich fillings can be tucked into lettuce wraps.

Vegetarian options include a couple of sandwiches where tofu stands in for the meat (like the aforementioned satay) and a teriyaki veggie tempura.

The menu also holds a handful of well-conceived salads. Proceed with caution when dressing the soba noodles; I overdid it with the wasabi cream, which made it nearly inedible. For next time, I've got my eye on the Zen Salad with baby arugula, baby spinach, Asian pear and almond tossed in a honey-spiked soy vinaigrette. Add fried tofu or chicken (grilled or crispy) to any salad for $1.50 and $2, respectively.

The sandwiches come with side salads as well, and I can't speak highly enough about the cucumber salad. The ginger-spiked coleslaw is equally piquant. Potato chips, sliced and fried daily, come with a curry-ish spice mix that puts store-bought bagged varieties to shame.

The beverage selection includes familiar cans and a unique selection of small-batch sodas and Asian teas. Artisan toffee infused with tea and herbs are made for the shop by a pastry chef friend of the Nakasatians and are worth grabbing before heading out.

Despite the crush of people filing in at lunch, the wait for our meal was comparable to what I've experienced at local beef stands. It's tempting to want to jump out of line to save a table, but note that good karma flows at Zenwich; customers realize seats are at a premium and don't tend to linger long. A short ride away is Wilder Park in downtown Elmhurst for al fresco dining.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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