Legendary | Worth driving from anywhere
Mr. Beef | A Chicago Street Food Best: Italian Beef Sandwich
Review by: Michael Stern
What’s A Beef?
Italian beef is the second most popular street food in Chicagoland (after red hots). Mr. Beef has stood as one of its top purveyors since 1979. The cooks start with a vigorously garlicked roast. They slice it thin and sop it in natural gravy. Sandwich makers pile heaps of the wet beef into a muscle-crumbed torpedo of Gonnella-brand bread. The bread is just right for a beef sandwich. It softens as it soaks. But it has the oomph to stay in one piece even if you get your sandwich dipped. Dipped means double-soaked in gravy. Experienced eaters refer to an Italian beef sandwich simply as “a beef.” The modifier “Italian” and noun “sandwich” are presupposed.
Dress Your Beef
You will need to make this important choice: Do you want your beef hot or sweet? Hot means the sandwich maker garnishes it with giardiniera, a crunchy Italian pickled-vegetable relish. Ask for sweet and they pile in roasted peppers. It is possible to ask for both: “hot and sweet.”
Chicago Is A Sausage City
Do not neglect the sausages. They cook on a grate until they become juice-bursting taut. You can get a sausage sandwich hot or sweet, just like beef. Some folks go for a combo: a length of sausage and a pile of beef loaded into the bread.
Eat Standing Up
Accommodations are minimal. There is an adjoining dining room. It has actual tables at which to sit. And there are a few stools at a counter up front. But the Italian beef connoisseur’s choice is to stand at the chest-high counter that rims the perimeter of the main room. Here, eaters unwrap the wax paper that holds the Italian beef sandwich and set the paper on the counter. It will catch the inevitable spillage and keep the tasty debris at handy plucking distance while you dine.
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