High-class comfort food

Chico’s Upper Crust delivers with delicious soups, sandwiches

Comfort: A warm bowl of black-bean chili and a hot sandwich from the Upper Crust.

Comfort: A warm bowl of black-bean chili and a hot sandwich from the Upper Crust.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery
130 Main St., 895-3866, www.uppercrustchico.com

Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery

130 Main St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 895-3866

Recent erratic weather has us guessing whether tomorrow with bring showers, a heat wave or quarter-sized hail, but one thing is for certain: Eventually, it’s going to keep raining. It may rain for days, weeks and months on end, and it’s going to be cold and get dark early. But facing the damp reality of a North State winter isn’t all depressing if one turns his or her mind to new food opportunities. The darkest days can be made bearable, even pleasant, with the comfort and solace found within a nice bowl of chili or cup of soup.

Though Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery is best known for its delectable baked goods, the restaurant also offers a full lunch menu and, from what I’d heard, some great soups. But even more than the soups, I’d overheard everyone from hipsters to aged hippies raving about Upper Crust’s chili and jalapeno cornbread.

On my first visit to Upper Crust, I was bummed to find they had no chili. “It’s not ready yet,” the guy at the counter told me. He was vague and I was uncertain whether he meant it was cooking that very moment, or would be on the menu soon, or what. He noticed my confusion and directed me to a soup calendar containing no mention of chili. Since the place was packed, I didn’t delve any further, opting instead for a California Chicken Sandwich ($8.25) with a side of New England Clam Chowder. My lunch date ordered the special, a butternut squash quesadilla served with chipotle lime sour cream.

I mention the exchange with the employee not to criticize, but to illustrate a point. Upper Crust is a popular lunch-counter-style eatery in the heart of downtown and can get very busy and chaotic. They have an ever-evolving, rotating menu heavy with daily specials, and sometimes even the employees seem confused by it. While regulars seemed to have no problem knowing what they wanted, I stood drooling, stammering about “ch-ch-chili” and gawking at the rows and rows of quiches, cookies, salads and other assorted goodies lining the glass cases. A quick glance at their (surprisingly well-written) updates on Facebook or online menu before walking through the door helps a great deal.

Despite being my second choice, the sandwich was excellent, though it didn’t resemble a typical deli sandwich so much as a molten mess of cheese, chicken, vegetable and rosemary garlic aioli oozing from between two pieces of toasted, sundried tomato and olive bread. The vegetables (including bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and onions) provided a nice bit of texture, and altogether the sandwich packs as much comfort as a casserole.

The soup was delicious, but served a bit tepid, not the most appetizing way to take chowder. I’m not one to complain too loudly about clam chowder—with bacon in it—though, and I think it wouldn’t have been a problem had I ordered the soup du jour rather than the soup du yester-jour.

Also impressive was the quesadilla, with the butternut squash adding an interesting, pumpkinesque sweetness to counter the zingy chipotle and lime.

I finally got some black-bean chili on a return visit two days later and am happy to say it lived up to its reputation. It’s a bit on the mild side, but crumbling in some of the delicious jalapeno cornbread adds an extra bite. I also tried a few scones (which range from $2-$3), a sweet cinnamony-berry affair and a savory pecan feta one, both quite tasty.

The coffee is also worth noting. I tasted some of my girlfriend’s pumpkin latte and was stoked to find it strong and flavorful with a distinct snap of pumpkin flavor, rather than some overly sweet, viscous pie-goo in a cup.

Altogether, Upper Crust’s lunch menu is fantastic: rich, complex, strikingly original and sometimes daring comfort food masquerading as standard deli fare. They’re very vegetarian friendly and always have meat-free options on hand. Though slightly pricier than your average lunch, it’s well worth the slight splurge, especially when you need a little warmth during the long, cold winter.