Why it’s so hard to get real Italian beef outside Chicago

I rarely feel obligated to weigh in on a particular dish, restaurant, or food trend. But I’m from Chicago. And there is a popular FX show on Hulu called “The Bear” that is set in Chicago and is about a particular food from Chicago. And so, I feel obliged to say a few words about this delicious, authentic and unmistakable Italian beef burger. (I won’t say too much about the reality show – we have TV Critics for that.)

First, here’s what an Italian beef should be: a 6- to 8-inch long sandwich with a thinly sliced ​​meat filling marinated on a French roll soaked in juice and tightly wrapped in wax or foil insulation. When you pick it up, it feels heavier than expected; wet like a wet diaper. Sorry to be crude, but it’s the best analogy you can think of for a sandwich that’s not only soaked with juices but also olive oil from the spicy giardiniera on top – or sweet peppers if you don’t. can handle seasoning (or both).

It’s sloppy and unwieldy, and it’s best eaten as soon as you get up. If sitting, it’s best to enjoy this dish on an outdoor couch or on your kitchen table. French fries are a great accompaniment, as is an Italian iced cup served with a plastic straw with a spoon at one end.

But for those who have never eaten real Italian beef, negative space might be the easiest way to understand it, i.e. what it is, as opposed to what it is. It’s definitely not your classic Italian bagel with a variety of meat-based meats. Nor is it a roast beef sandwich, with relatively thick slices of meat that still have some pink in the middle.

Ironically, the Italian beef is the least important part of the sandwich. It’s not shredded, like you’d find in a cheeseburger, but shaved thinly to be best described as ribbon, rather than sliced. (Imagine it as thin as possible. Now imagine it’s 50% thinner. Can’t be that thin? Try to chill it first.) The quality of the beef, though not the material , but less important when it’s scraped and cooked to hell in its own juices than if you’re eating, say, a prime rib dinner.

Bread is the main thing. It should not be too soft, as it will break down from the juice. Therefore, the ideal texture for an Italian beef roll is like a yoga mat – tough and firm; can withstand being immersed in liquid and remain mostly intact. Juice, a thin, broth-like gravy reminiscent of oregano and bouillon pellets, softens bread and aids consumption. You know how the pros in hot dog eating contests always dip their hot dogs in water? It’s the same idea. Beef buns are often referred to as “wet” or “juicy”. You can also set it “dry” but I’m not sure why you would do that.

The hot pickle giardiniera is the final piece of the puzzle. It can contain, among other things, cauliflower, hot peppers, celery, carrots, and green olives (make sure the holes don’t have holes). Giardiniera happens to be pretty good with everything, but incidentally, it’s especially good with beef. Cheese is an optional topping at some beef stands, but never, in my opinion, acceptable.

I won’t insult the sandwich and unnecessarily romanticize it by calling it “humble”, although its origins are actually relatively humble – it was created by Italian immigrants as a way to prolong a piece of meat as long as possible. Dan Bartlett, curator of exhibitions at Elmhurst Historical Museum.

As for the birth of the sandwich, “it seems to have emerged in the 1920s, and by the 1930s it started to become more and more popular,” says Bartlett.

Chain based in Chicago Al .’s Beef claims to have invented the sandwich in an Italian-American context “Peanut Wedding” – the place that served peanuts to guests when money was tight. Al’s claims that Anthony Ferreri (Al’s father) created the sandwich as a way to feed a large group of people on the cheap.

Bartlett agrees that the sandwich was likely born out of the financial realities of the time, but the true origins are hard to pinpoint. “The reality is likely that this thing has been lost or buried under the sands of time,” he said.

For whatever reason, Italian beef is one of those super-local foods that, like Skyline Chili or Taylor Ham, has never translated outside of its homeland. But you can certainly find Italian beef outside of Chicago and believe me, I searched everywhere for a good one. I’ve eaten them in New York, Boulder, Colo., Los Angeles, even in Anchorage at a place called Johnny Chicago’s. But over the years, I’ve slowed down in my pursuit of something truly great. Fair or not, it’s hard to compete with memory.

In LA, there are only a handful of places that get authentic Chicago-style Italian beef. I would like to offer one possible explanation for this conspicuous scarcity: the decline of France.

The early 20th century sandwich, claimed by both Cole and Philippe, is one of LA’s most famous contributions to the culinary world. Cole’s said they made the right amount of creativity in response to a soft customer who found crunchy French rolls hard to bite into. Philippe’s claims to have invented the sandwich by accident when its founder dropped a roll in drip pan. As with DB Cooper or Black Dahlia, we may never know the full truth.

Which could explain the lack of Italian beef here – what city has room in its heart to embrace two distinct juice-dense beef sandwiches? Perhaps, hopefully, that could change one day.

But it’s the same, as Chicagoans are extremely protective of their food. Chicago-style dogs with almost any vegetable in the sun piled on top their? Caramel Cheese Popcorn eat together? Deep Pizza ridicule by none other than Anthony Bourdain? We Chicagoans hear what you have to say about us and our food. We hear every petty insult and benevolent insult. And in true Midwestern style, we shrink them all into a tight little ball and push it down inside, to be launched later at an inopportune time.

(A note when saying you are “from Chicago”: I lived for 5 years in the city proper but spent most of my childhood in Oak Park, a suburb on the western border of the city. . you’ve touched the rug if you claim Chicago as coming from one of the suburbs. It could also be Iowa.)

For me, the best of all the Italian beef stands is Johnnie’s Beef, about six minutes from where I grew up, where I ate loads of bread. It’s a long, single-story shack with a wall with large windows facing the street that’s lit at night, making it look like a little ship on the water. Note that it’s a beef stall, not a beef restaurant. It’s a rack because there’s no place to sit. (There are several picnic tables outside.)

There is almost always a straight line, even in sub-cooling temperatures, and it moves quickly. The atmosphere is not unfriendly, but it is succinct. Will let you know what you want by the time you get to the cashier, who takes your cash and repeats orders in a nose drone with a group of young men in light blue shirts behind him ta. It’s easy, because the menu is simple: Italian beef. Italian sausage. Beef and sausage combo. Hot dog. Egg and pepper bread (Friday only). And something called “2 dogs 1 bread” that I have never ordered but can take a guess as to what that involves.

Treat yourself to a juicy steak with hot giardiniera – or a juicy beef and sausage combo if you’re playing in advanced mode – and a small Italian ice cube. Unswaddle and devour. Thin slices of beef will taste better thanks to the spicy pickle mixture. The bread, dripping with olive oil and lard, somehow maintains its structural integrity just long enough for you to finish the sandwich.

This is the part of Chicago that never left me. It is my madeleine dipped in tea. And while future sandwiches may never come to life with past beef memories, I’m not sure they have to. They are always waiting at home, and I can always dream about them. Why it’s so hard to get real Italian beef outside Chicago

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