Chicago’s Iconic Sandwich; Italian Beef
Welcome back gluttonous readers to an Al’s #1 Italian Beef Shytown edition of the Pot & Pan Handler’s derelict blog. Today we’re going back to an old favorite, the epitome of Chicago dining. More iconic than their hot dogs & as recognizable as their corn meal lasagna called Chicago style pizza, the heavy weight champion of Chicago foods, the Italian Beef with spicy Giardiniera.
For those uninitiated in the unctuous details of an Italian Beef, allow us to initiate you. Picture an Italian sub loaf stuffed with slow cooked, thinly sliced, rump roast. Now dip the entire sandwich in the resulting au jus. Is it a drippy hot mess? Yep, so, dip it again & top with sweet roasted bell pepper &/or spicy Giardiniera (a spicy pickled veg medley and our preferred delivery method). If there’s a better regional sandwich we’ve never had it, we get ours at Al’s #1 Italian Beef. Get your eating stance ready because this time we’re taking you with us to get Italian Beef Sandwiches at Al’s #1 Italian Beef. Get in the car, buckle up, it’s going to be a messy ride.
Cold enough for ya der?
The last time we were in Shytown it was January and below 0 degrees. That alone would not daunt us but that damn Chicago wind made outside a near impossibility. The result of which was us retreating to the hotel & not leaving until we took a cab back to the airport. Regretful our opportunity to acquire Italian Beefs was gone. That means it’s been an unacceptable 4 years since we last had the beefy deliciousness called an Italian Beef @ Al’s #1 Italian Beef. After checking in to Chicago’s answer to a renovated post office turned into a hotel, modernized slightly & divided into two hotels, Club Quarters we hit the streets to rectify this situation.
Let’s talk Italian Beefs. Decidedly not Italian at all, they were developed in Chicago, thinly sliced beef to stretch the portions for the working class. These Italian Beef sandwiches are so fatty & beefy; they are a concoction that could only be conceived in the Midwest (and possibly Texas). When you order an Italian beef they slap the tender, juicy beef into a carb envelope. Now you have a choice. Do you want sweet peppers or hot Giardiniera, which is just as hard to spell as it is to say. Either roasted green bell peppers or a spicy, oily, pickled veg contraption that is far tastier than it sounds. Now here’s the secret, ask for it double dipped. They take that beefy, pepper filled sandwich and dunk it in the au jus, do you want it dipped again? Yes you do.
The sheer unctuous fattiness of all that beef, double dipped in its own fat & melted collagen needs a hit of acidity that’s where the Giardiniera comes in. Spicy, & slightly acidic, it cuts through the fatty beef with a spicy acidic kick that balances what otherwise would be a very heavy sandwich.
Mr. Beef was our first introduction to Italian Beefs; Jay Leno put them on the map, when he became famous. An owed recompense for all the free & discounted food he received when he was still a failing standup comic. These sandwiches are good but the slices of beef are far larger which leads to an almost beefy gum texture. Not unlike the difference between Geno’s & Pat’s Cheese steaks in Philadelphia, it’s a preference, we just happen to prefer a finer dice. Enter Al’s #1 Italian Beef. Thinly sliced, double dipped, hot Giardiniera on Italian loaf. They are our current favorite. https://www.yelp.com/biz/mr-beef-chicago-5
We’ll Take Two
We get to Al’s #1 Italian Beef & order two Italian Beefs, throw in an order of fries and son of a bitch, they don’t have beer. Um, root beer, I guess? Textbook as always, fatty, juicy, deliciousness with a bold acidic spicy kick, all that fat needs texture & acidity, fortunately Giardiniera makes its grand entrance. Crunchy bits of celery, carrots & hot peppers. This brings a textural & acidic balance to the sandwich equation. I would be surprised if there’s a better Italian Beef than those at Al’s #1 Italian Beef. https://www.alsbeef.com/
The fries on the other hand… They’re house made and they’re fairly good, but they don’t double fry. Erroneously they believe crispy fries are the result of food processing, when it’s actually technique. The result of frying twice is a crispy exterior with a pillow of potato on the inside. Al’s #1 Italian Beef’s fries are amateur, like a Five Guys, a step in the right direction, but ultimately a fry fail. Al’s #1 Italian Beef’s fries are slightly greasy and limp, but they’re still better than the fries across the street, but that’s a different post.
We’ll take it. A slightly substandard fry is a small price to pay for the unctuous, fattiness that is an Italian Beef sandwich. Our only real beef with Al’s #1 Italian Beef is those puritanical bastards don’t serve booze. Nary a pint of beer or glass of wine in sight, which leaves you in the uncomfortable position of consuming a soda (pronounced Pop in Chicago) with a sandwich that cries for a beer accompaniment. But their ubiquitous Italian Beef sandwiches more than make up for a couple of slight shortcomings.
A Better Beef?
The next day, a local told us that there’s a joint serving even better Italian Beef’s than Al’s #1 Italian Beef. And it’s right across the street. Spoiler alert they serve beer… But that dear reader’s is different post.
Coming soon we’re still wearing our Italian Beef hats in shytown as we check out Portillo’s hot dogs. As distressing as it is to eat anywhere that has the word hot dog in the name, word is, there’s an even better Italian Beef there. Secondly they serve beer. But first we take a foray into the Billy Goat Tavern… We’ll see you there.
The Pot & Pan Handlers are escaped restaurant émigrés & food porn fluffers. The result of which is the hardest food in the industry. Armed with a rusty spatula, they’re on Quixotic mission to find edible food in a neighborhood near you. Preferably in a windmill, we’re looking at you Simon Pierce.