Everyone knows about the deep dish pizza, Italian beef and hot dog that have made Chicago famous.

Fewer have heard of Jim Shoe (also known as Gym Shoe on south and west side fast food menu boards).

The Jim Shoe is a submarine sandwich, containing both corned and roast beef, gyros with the usual white sauce, lettuce, sliced tomato, mayo, and sometimes cheese, onions, mustard and/or giardiniera.

Every food writer in Chicago has heard of Jim Shoe, mostly thanks to the writings of local food journalists Peter Engler and Nick Kindelsperger. Both Engler and Kindelsperger did independent research on this Chicago original, which though found mostly on the south and west sides, is showing up at locations north of Madison.

Engler, with his typical attention to detail and scholarly enthusiasm, went about seeking the origin of this sandwich:

One day, I asked yet another owner where the name came from. He didn’t know, but his young assistant – who had been listening intently – came over to the glass and confidently told me he knew where the name came from. At last, I thought, my quest will be over. He pointed to his head and announced dramatically, “It comes from the mind.”

That was actually more helpful than most responses. I’m still looking into various origin stories, most probably completely fabricated. My working hypothesis is that it was simply named after a customer, Jim, or an employee, Jamshed.

If you’d like to try this sandwich for yourself, Kindelsperger recommends the Jim Shoes at Sun Submarines, just a mile or so outside Oak Park [5542 W. North]. That’s where I went for my first Shoe.

For about $6.50 I got a regular-sized sandwich, fries and “can pop” (which seems to be the standard way a can of soda is advertised at places that serve Jim Shoes). For pairing with my Jim Shoe, I selected a well-chilled can of Sunkist Grape, the acidic, lightly sweet and fruity beverage meshed with the multidimensional mingling of the three meats, creaminess of mayo/cheese food and heat of subtle giardiniera. The polyvalent complexity of the Gym Shoe affords one the opportunity to pair with a number of fruit-based carbonated libations.

Okay, I’m kidding, you can’t write about this wacky sandwich with much seriousness.

I will say, however, that the crispy little nuggets of griddled gyros meat made for a texturally interesting sandwich, and the giardiniera was a very welcome balance to the richness of the gyros sauce and mayo; the flavors of the other meats kind of blurred together in one big, drippy fistful of food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Because Sun Submarines, like most of the places that I’ve heard sell Jim Shoes, has no seating and all transactions are carried out a bullet-proof glass and carousel, I had to bring the sandwich home to eat, and I was kind of glad I did. Though having a warmer sandwich is almost always much better than having it colder, it’s nice to be able to put this big drippy sandwich on a plate and eat it with a knife and fork, which is not a bad idea at all.  This is a moist meal: it came in wax paper, wrapped in aluminum, and bagged. It was heavy. It was good…maybe not great, in fact definitely not great, but worthy of a try.

And Sun Submarine is a slice. Here’s a scenario that played out as I waited by the bullet-proof carousel:

Bicycle Guy rushes in, carrying his bicycle, taps on the glass to get attention of counterman:

BICYCLE GUY: Hey, I’m going to get coffee. You want any?

COUNTERMAN: No

Counterman then bethinks himself runs to window and taps furiously to get the Bicycle Guy’s attention as he opens the door:

COUNTERMAN: You can’t have coffee!  You’re fasting!!

BICYCLE GUY: Doh.

Bicycle guy leaves.

The Jim Shoe does not get a lot of praise, and I do not come here to praise it, though I plan to have one again, sometime, inshallah.

Sun Submarine

5542 W North Ave #1, Chicago, IL 60639

(773) 622-8240

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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