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Thursday, October 8, 2009

This Italian Beef Sandwich Might Be Da Best A Homesick Chicagoan Could Hope For

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 2:56 PM

click to enlarge For Chicagoans, a big old whiff of home. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • For Chicagoans, a big old whiff of home.
In Chicago, where, outside of restaurants with $30 entrees, the quality of lunch is calculated partly by its girth, the Italian beef sandwich draws epic love. Soft-cooked, thinly sliced pot roast meat -- chuck, maybe -- packed into rolls just as soft, especially ordered "wet," which means soaked in the meat's jus. Comes with a scatter of giardiniera; ask for it "hot," and it comes with pickled chiles. There's no way to eat without getting your chin wet, eventually itchy, and without the roll dissolving into a patchy kind of panade in your fingers.

click to enlarge Two expats keep the home fires burning. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Two expats keep the home fires burning.
For a little over a year now, Chicago expats Yvonne Long and Natalie McMahon have been serving up simulacra of this iconic sandwich at Da Beef, a hot dog cart planted next to Oil Can Henry's quick lube (300 Seventh St. at Folsom). The rolls are from Chicago bakery Gonnella -- for that matter, so's the giardiniera, which they get via a distributor in Petaluma (ditto all the fixings for Da Beef's Chicago-style dog, including the Vienna Beef wiener).

click to enlarge The Chicago-style dog is dead on. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • The Chicago-style dog is dead on.
Being honest? Da Beef's Italian beef sandwich ($7) looks like the real deal, and a mouthful into the giardiniera, tastes like it, too. Sadly, the beef itself lacks flavor. Three bites in, you think it's you, as if your tastebuds just aren't engaging; five bites in, you realize it's the meat itself, pale and washed out, and with fatally wan jus. Still, for anyone homesick for Mr. Beef on Orleans on the Near North Side, Da Beef's copy might do. At least for a minute or two. Anyway, the Chicago-style hot dog ($4, including relish stained cartoon-frog green, tomato, pickle spear, and celery salt) is awesome.

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