RIVER WEST — Chicago can no longer claim "The Greatest Sandwich in America" — well, at least for a season.
The notice taped to the front door of The Silver Palm, that culinary train dining car permanently parked next door to The Matchbox on Milwaukee, announced the restaurant would close for "winter vacation" after one final Sunday night supper.
The cute picture on the posting — a piglet with a Mona Lisa grin — hinted at the underlying tragedy of it all. Regulars like me will have to endure an entire Chicago winter without the savory goodness of Silver Palm's signature — the "Three Little Pigs."
That potentially artery-clogging sandwich — artfully stacked breaded pork tenderloin, smoked ham, bacon, a fried egg and an onion ring covered in cheese on a hearty roll — became something of a culinary tourist attraction the moment Emmy award-winning international food critic Anthony Bourdain dubbed it the best in the U.S. in 2008.
When out-of-towners ask for a casual dining recommendation, The Silver Palm was always at the top of my list.
Frankly, Bourdain's love of that pork celebration on a bun single-handedly saved The Silver Palm from shutting down five years ago, said owner David Gervercer, who now lives in Mexico with his wife and business partner, Jackie.
As things turned out, The Silver Palm couldn't survive on Bourdain's endorsement alone.
I couldn't help but wonder why such a cool restaurant (you eat in a real train car) with such great food on a busy street next to a great bar and easy access to public transportation had to take a break. I reached out to the Gervercers.
Ultimately, The Silver Palm was done in by the well-meaning pursuit of a more bike-friendly city, David Gervercer said.
Specifically, the installation of protected bike lanes and a Divvy bike station on Milwaukee Avenue — combined with road construction — gobbled up so much parking that customers stayed away, he said.
"The loss of 15 parking places in one block took its toll," David Gervercer wrote in an email. "There was an article … about the bike problem and how some neighborhoods were having severe parking problems due to loss of spaces."
But rather than shut the place down for good, Gervercer opted to take a breath and wait for spring — April 22 to be exact.
"We will be doing some renovation, but not much that would be visible," he said. "A few menu changes, but mostly a fresh start to a new year."
On Sunday, I made a late trip to The Silver Palm for a last supper of sorts. For starters, the best grilled calamari you'll find anywhere — spicy, salty and substantial. I followed that up with America's best sandwich.
It looked like heaven on my plate, sided with tasty roasted vegetables. I took a photo before my first bite — a last look at the best of the best.
The Three Little Pigs, even for a big guy like me, always winds up being a struggle to finish, but I got the job done and snapped a picture as proof.
After paying the bill, the dining car was empty.
The guys in the kitchen, Alex Hutado, Juan Garcia and Ricardo Ramirez, brought out a cake to mark the end of their employment.
When I stopped to take a picture of them around the cake — a last portrait — none of them could muster much of a smile.
Indeed, it was a sad day for all of us.
The winter of our discontent.