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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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#1 At Last!

Thursday, April 14, 2011 @ 07:04 AM

097The city of Chicago is synonymous with a couple of food items…Deep Dish Pizza (otherwise known as "Chicago Style"), a Chicago-style hot dog that ends up being more like a sandwich, and Italian Beef sandwiches.  Now I’ve had me many a slice of Chicago deep dish in my day and even a few Chicago dogs…, but one thing I’d never had was Italian Beef. In fact, I actually kept insisting I didn’t like Italian Beef (even though I really had never had it). Yes….this is a tragedy I know, but true.  Adam would ask me, “When was the last time you tried one?” and I kept insisting it was fairly recently. But honestly, I couldn’t remember…, in fact I think I probably had a bite of one as a kid and in my pickier days just decided it wasn’t for me. So over the years I had convinced myself that I just “didn’t like ’em…period!”  But I knew for the sake of the blog, my husband constant pleading and insistence, and being a true foodie, I needed to give this quintessential sandwich a real try.

So, in the city of Chicago there are a more than a few spots that serve these famous beefy delights, but none are quite as well known or famous as Al’s Beef.  “From its humble beginning back in 1938, Al Ferreri and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli, Sr. began developing what is known today as one of the ‘Top 10 Sandwiches in America,’ a ‘Chicago Food Legend’ and ‘Chicago’s #1 Italian Beef Sandwich,’ an honor bestowed upon it by Chicago magazine”(http://www.alsbeef.com/company/about.asp).  So although they created these sandwiches as a creative tasty necessity during the depression era, they soon grew to be so popular and notorious that they have over the years boomed into 14 locations around the Chicago-land area and they will even cater any type of event.  They are so famed, in fact, that countless food writers, magazines, shows, famous guests…pretty much anyone and anything having to do with the food world have visited their restaurant and raved about the experience!

Adam and I were no strangers to the famous Al’s Beef name because if you live anywhere near the vicinity of Chicago, it’s hard to drive around and not see one somewhere. However sadly…, we never visited one while we lived in Chicago!  It’s hard to believe thinking back, but because I had convinced myself I didn’t like Italian beef, it’s not surprising. In the end, we (and with Adam’s needling), we had to see it on countless TV programs before I realized just how good it looked.  So lucky for us we travel back to Chicago often, and on a visit over my birthday weekend, we were able to stop in; and although there are many locations, we chose to visit the very first on Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy.

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We knew on any given day that the lunch crowd here can be quite crazy, so we planned it so we were getting into town a little later and could enjoy not having a huge line.  The original location really doesn’t have much in the way of “dining space.” It’s truly just a counter where you order and can step up and eat if you like, but if you know anything about these sandwiches, you know that “step up” or back as it actually happens, is the way to do it. 

But back to the sandwich…the first option you are given is if you simply want the juice ladled on top, or if you want it dipped.  If you choose to get your Italian Beef dipped, which I highly recommend you do, you will want to take "Da Italian Stance" (google it!) as they call it so as not to drip all over yourself.  You also have the option of adding peppers and their giardiniera to the top of your sandwich, but each is completely up to you (although I will tell you that the peppers and giardiniera are a Chicago preference).  Adam and I both chose to go with the peppers and then get some giardiniera on the side, simply for the sake of taste.

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I’ll admit it right now that by convincing myself I didn’t like these sandwiches, I was missing out on years of pure beefy and juicy enjoyment!  Sure…these sandwiches are messy, but literally so good you can’t help but to devour it in just a few bites….IT’S THAT GOOD!  Not only is the flavor of the beef itself excellent, but it’s just so tender. Also, if you get it dunked it just compounds the flavor…which is so unique and not like any other meat sandwich I’ve ever had.  I was glad I added the peppers cause they added a nice flavor and texture. Finally, I was also glad I opted to get the giardiniera on the side, because I was not a fan! I’m not really into spice…so this just wasn’t my thing.  Overall, we wished we had not waited so long to enjoy this wonderful part about Chi-Town. Let’s just say I know it won’t be long before we are back for another visit for sure!

SIGNATURE DISH: The name of this place says it all…Italian Beef!  Although they do have a few other Chicago favorites on their menu, people are truly coming here for the beef. 

TASTE: As I said above, I am very disappointed in myself that I didn’t give these sandwiches a fair chance sooner, but I am so glad that I have grown up enough to do so, and I will never again make that mistake. I LOVE ITALIAN BEEF!  There is just something so simple yet so perfect about the marriage of soft french bread, tender soaked roast beef, and green peppers all dunked to a juicy perfection. Like I said…the flavor is like no other steak sandwich I’ve ever had…Yum!

AMBIANCE: This is not a fancy sit down restaurant by any means, nor a real sit-down place either. There is simply a counter where you can mosey up to and eat quick.  A very simple place, you can imagine what it was like 40 or 50 years ago and not much has changed except for the addition of pictures and other pieces of nostalgia added to the walls as Al’s has gained its notoriety.  It is the perfect location for a food like the Italian Beef sandwich….very fitting.

SERVICE: Everyone was very friendly and fast…you just simply place your order at the counter and it isn’t long before that dripping beefy goodness is being placed in front of you.  If you choose to take it to go, that is also a popular option, but I recommend eating in to have the full “stance” experience.

PRICE: Many places in the area have jacked up their prices due to their notoriety, but if Al’s has done that, it’s hard to notice.  At around $5 for a sandwich and a drink, I consider this a deal…, especially in the city of Chicago. 

Although I likely won’t succeed, I want to declare now that I am never again not going to try something because I have convinced myself I don’t like it based on never having tried it or trying it when I was very young.  In this instance, I am SOOOO glad I opened up my horizons and tried this wonderful sandwich.  We truly enjoyed our quick trip into Al’s Beef and give it an easy and deserving 5 ‘Little Piggies.’

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2 Responses to “#1 At Last!”

  1. amazingly, i’ve never been here…though we see it all the time! you have me itching to go next time we’re in town! 🙂

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