It seems so basic: bread and beef.
Yet to local foodies, there’s no agreement as to who makes the best version of this couldn’t-be-simpler sandwich.
On LTHForum.com, the Chicago-based culinary chat site I co-founded in 2004 and continue to moderate, the quarrels about the best beef are ongoing. Some old school food enthusiasts argue passionately for Al’s Italian Beef on Taylor; one of those traditionalists is Oak Park’s own Rob Gardner (Local Beet Editor at Large), who simply asserts of Al’s, “Best Italian Beef.” Some champion smaller, less well-known places: “the beef, fries, and soda combo at Tore and Luke's (which used to be named "Luke's") in the suburbs is, imho, hands down the best in Chicago or the surrounding area." Johnnie’s in Elwood Park has its vocal partisans, writes one: “The original Johnnies on North Avenue is quite probably the best.”
This is not a debate that’s going to be resolved. Ever.
Still, we who live to eat all have our preferences, and my favorite Italian beef is Johnnie’s. What Johnnie’s (7500 W. North Ave.) has going for it is a good combination of high-quality meat, flavorful sauce, good bread…and high turnover. The popularity of Johnnie’s ensures that no pieces of beef are going to be sitting in the sauce for more than a few minutes, and when I go, I always order “wet, sweet and hot,” meaning I want the sandwich dipped in the juice and drizzled with sweet and hot peppers. The addition of Johnnie’s Italian ice is a perfectly cool balance to the slight heat of the sandwich.
Of course, you may disagree…and we’d like to hear about your favorite place to nibble an Italian beef sandwich.