Beef Beefs

Consensus about Italian beef? Fugetaboutit!

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By David Hammond

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, 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.

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John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 7:30 AM

I don't get you beefers. To me they all taste kind of the same. Good, but not great. That may be because of my southern Indiana background where if you don't fry it, you don't eat it.

val camilletti  

Posted: December 16th, 2010 8:45 AM

Running a little late on my blog reading (and writing, I might say) but had to chime in on my "beefs" - I'm with Marty on Johnnies, but my tastebuds still remember my early beefs - about 1955 from the original Carm's at Cicero & Arthington - they were $.35 & I have to get 2 Johnnies to match the size. (My Italian mom could never comprehend why anyone would drive somewhere to get a sandwich) I understand there's still one Carm's left, south on Rte 59, but I'm afraid to spoil a memory.

David Hammond from Oak Park  

Posted: October 14th, 2010 4:24 PM

Marty, the truly epicurean of Johnnie's devotees ask for "oil" on their sandwiches, which is just the juice from the giardinera drizzled over the beef. Me, I like the vegetables themselves on the sandwich.

Marty Stempniak  

Posted: October 14th, 2010 1:26 PM

God I love Johnnie's, and their Italian Ice is the best thing to eat on this planet. Pete's on Roosevelt also has an underrated beef that you don't hear mentioned a lot. I think a good Giardiniera is key to a delicious beef, preferably with carrots, green olives and celery in it. And the meat can't be overcooked, otherwise it gets too chewy. I might have to go get me some Johnnie's for lunch.

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