The Corned Beef Factory really is a corned beef factory, having corned and packed briskets for Chicago-area restaurants and grocery stores since 1948. A few years ago, as the city’s meat-packing district began morphing into a restaurant row, the family who runs it opened up a tiny retail operation up front selling sandwiches of what they do so well in back. I hesitate to call it a restaurant because it has no indoor tables and one large communal picnic table on the sidewalk, and service is a quaint dine-in-the-rough style whereby your order and name are inked on a tag. The sandwich gets constructed, wrapped and boxed. The box, wrapped with string tied into a bow, is yours to carry to an eating place.
Inside the box you find a magnificent sandwich: corned beef, sliced thin the Chicago way, is moist and tender, just barely briny, remarkably lean and yet dramatically flavorful. It comes piled high in rye with either yellow or spicy mustard, a pickle spear, and a bag of house-made potato chips that are themselves remarkable: see-through thin, lightweight, and crisp.
Nicely spiced pastrami is a good alternative. Like the corned beef, it is alarmingly lean but somehow extremely luxurious. Combos of both meats are available, known here as a Tom & Jerry sandwich; and anything is available with sliced Swiss cheese. And there are Reubens (as well as Tom & Jerry Reubens), loaded with sauerkraut and lubricated with 1000 Islands dressing.
Cured meats are the signature, but note that the Corned Beef Factory prepares a beautiful Chicago-style red hot: a Vienna all-beef dog in a steamed-soft poppy seed bun, fully accoutered with mustard, bright green relish, crisp onions, sport peppers, and a pickle spear. Nor should Italian beef be overlooked. It is available dry or wet, with sweet peppers or hot giardiniera, in a length of fresh, crusty bread and, if desired, with mozzarella cheese.
The joy of eating at the Corned Beef Factory beyond its meaty menu has a lot to do with the way the place looks – a savvy modern gloss on its genuine vintage history (note the old lamps above the sandwich-making area, the meat-packer rails on the wall) as well as its echt-urban location just below the El (which drowns out all conversation when the train rumbles past). It’s also memorable because of the people who run it. They seem to love what they are doing, and love sharing that joy. They are an extraordinarily friendly, hospitable crew who put a fine human face on a true Chicago dining experience.
I tip my hat to Roadfooder extraordinaire Gregg Pill for putting this great discovery at the top of his Eat Chicago spreadsheet.