From the outside, Bari appears to be a neighborhood corner grocery store. Even after you enter, it doesn’t really look like the dedicated sandwich shop it is. Like many small urban bodgeas, there is a little deli in the back; but at Bari, you don’t get ordinary sandwiches. The sandwiches here are pilgrimage-worthy Italian-American lunches on a roll.
Bari’s claim to fame is Italian Beef — not just the sandwich, but the beef itself. In fact, Bari sells its meat and house giardinera to small vendors around Chicago that hawk the famous sandwich alongside hot dogs. The beef is tender, juicy, but thoroughly cooked. Getting it at the source makes sense, and it gets you a giant sandwich with loads of roast beef and just a few scoops of pickled vegetables. The bread is so soggy from the jus-soaked meat that it demands rapid consumption.
Bari’s most famous sandwich is not Italian Beef. It’s the Italian Sub: a classic hoagie with every element done a little bit better. The hard roll comes from D’amato’s bakery next door (a place that’s worth stopping by after eating a sub here), and the layering and selection of the cold cuts and provolone is precise. The more obvious differences in Bari’s Italian Sub are its house dressing and hot peppers. It all comes together to make a world-class cold sandwich.
Bari’s meatball sub is just three ingredients on a sandwich roll: meatballs, marinara sauce, and melted provolone cheese. Given the simplicity and hedonistic joy of soft meat, it’s hard to screw up a meatball sandwich, and it’s nearly as hard to make one that stands out. Bari blows us away again with this one. The soft herbaceous meatballs melt in your mouth and there is just enough sauce to dress the sandwich but not overwhelm it.
The sandwiches at Bari come in in 9” and 12” sizes, and are fully loaded. Consider splitting a foot-long with a traveling companion, unless you are ravenous. The grocery component of the store sells dressings and giardinera for to take home. You might not be able to recreate the great Chicagoan Italian Beef, but at least you can have a tangy dressing to remember it by.