the spot: Johnnie’s Beef 7500 W. North Ave Chicago Il 60707
the eats: Italian Beef sandwich ordered “wet and hot”
the bucks: $5.32
the full nelson: a local’s favorite for Chicago’s most revered sandwich
If you have never had an Italian Beef in Chicago, you don’t know the heights a French Dip sandwich can go. Like its European cousin, an Italian Beef is an American invention with origins dating back to early 20th century in Chicago’s famed stockyards where beef was plentiful. The theory is that Italian Immigrants would bring home cheap cuts of beef, roast it slowly and serve it thinly sliced on bread for large gatherings. The signature Italian flavorings of oregano and garlic set Italian Beefs apart from French dips as does the toppings which include a sweet peppers, a spicy relish called “giardiniera” and the roasting juices of the beef.
I opted to get my Italian Beef “wet and hot” which meant the au jus was poured over the sandwich and with that spicy pickled relish known as Giardiniera. You can get the sandwich dry and ask for the jus on the side but I like to embrace what is ultimately going to be a messy meal at once without a moment’s hesitation. You will eat this sandwich fast because it won’t take long before the bread falls apart on you. Some people critique sandwiches on structural integrity. This is simply not their kind of sandwich.
It has been awhile since I have had an Italian Beef but I immediately noticed why Johnnie’s draws the praise of Chicagoans. That beef is just a cut above. It’s not necessary to use Wagyu beef on peasant food, but judging off the slices of this beef, you know the roast beef is of remarkable quality. Some beefs fall into deli meat when it comes to texture – these slices deliver the toothsome feel one expects from real roast beef.
I love spicy foods so I went with the hot peppers aka Giardiniera, though some like to go sweet peppers and forego the heat. As with all Italian beefs, the bread, the beef, the jus and the Giardiniera are all equally important to the overall sandwich experience. A great Italian beef hits you with its flavor as you approach the first bite. The aroma from the vinegar in the Giardiniera overtakes your sense of smell. The bread is soaked with beefy flavors as well as the fats from the jus and the olive oil from the Giardiniera. Then there is the simultaneous pleasure of eating tender savory slow roasted beef that is topped with crunchy bites of spice and acidity from the Giardiniera. Nothing subtle about this eating experience.
Heading into its 6th decade of operation, Johnnie’s Beef is most certainly one of those eating institutions that one grows up with stuffing your face and comes back to as a grown up to relive all those delicious memories. And my God it’s cheap. My sandwich was $5 and change. Not as big as say a Roast Pork from Philadelphia but just as satisfying. I came to Johnnie’s Beef riding a tidal wave of hype and I left very satisfied. Put this one in your Chicago must try list for sure.