The second most popular street food in Chicagoland (after red hots), Italian beef is slow-roasted beef that is vigorously garlicked, sliced thin and sopped in natural gravy. Some of its hundreds of purveyors sell it by the pound, to take home; but but eaters flock to Mr. Beef for a sandwich. That sandwich is known to cognoscenti simply as “a beef”; the modifier “Italian” and noun “sandwich” are presupposed.
Oh, what a sandwich! Piles of the wet beef are mounded into a muscle- crumbed torpedo of Gonnella-brand bread. This is bread made for beef sandwiches. It gets soft as it soaks, but has the oomph to stay in one piece even if you get your sandwich “dipped,” which means double-soaked in gravy. An important choice you’ll need to make is whether or not your want the sandwich “hot,” which means that it gets garnished with giardiniera relish that is crunchy and quite spicy. The alternative is “sweet”: roasted peppers. Some eaters get both: hot and sweet.
Sausages are excellent, too – cooked on a grate until taut and bursting with juice. You can get a sausage sandwich in similar configurations as beef, and it is also possible to have a combo: a length of sausage and a pile of beef loaded into the bread. Hot and/or sweet.
Accommodations are minimal. There is an adjoining dining room with actual tables at which to sit as well as a counter up front with stools; but the Italian beef connoisseur’s choice is to stand at the chest-high counter that rims the perimeter of the main room. Here, the wax paper that wraps the sandwich can be unwrapped to catch all the spillage and keep it at handy plucking distance while you dine.