Where to find Italian beef outside of Chicago
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Chicagoans can be picky when choosing Italian beef vendors in their hometown. But they’re even tougher on those trying to make the beloved sandwich outside of Chicago.
“If you do it in California and it’s not exactly the way they want it, they’ll let you know,” said Chris Caudill, owner of Roy’s Chicago Dogs at the Yard in Petaluma, Calif.
Nonetheless, a growing number of brave souls – often displaced Chicagoans – have risen to the challenge of making the city’s least understood local specialty a national thing.
Italian beef is served at Dogg Haus in Milwaukee and Tony’s Chicago Beef Company, which has branches in Sarasota and Venice, Florida. In New York City, Hank’s Juicy Beef, which before the Covid pandemic had a space on Chambers Street, will re-emerge in January as an extended pop-up at the Sixth Ward restaurant on Smith Street in Brooklyn. He joins another Brooklyn newcomer: Dog Day Afternoon, a hole in the wall in Windsor Terrace that sells Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs.
“It’s kind of like an adult sandwich,” owner Joe Boyle said of the beef dish. “He has a certain audience. Plus, there are a lot of Chicago natives here.
Mr. Boyle grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and opened Dog Day Afternoon in August with Jarret Kerr, whom he worked with at the Buttermilk Channel restaurant.
The most prolific proselyte of the Italian beef gospel is Chicago-based chain, Portillo’s, which now has outlets in California, Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, and plans to open in Texas. Italian beef is the best seller in all places.
“I get a lot of, ‘I just moved to this city. Can you please open a Portillo’s here? Said Nick Scarpino, the chain’s vice president for marketing and off-premises catering.
Fans of Italian beef especially appreciate the sandwich tiercé of essential components – moist, thinly sliced beef; a hearty bun; and the spicy relish known as giardiniera or sweet peppers topping it off, or both. To satisfy Italian beef critics, many of these outside restaurants order ingredients from Chicago-based companies associated with the sandwich, including Vienna Beef for the meat, Turano Baking Company for the bread, and Marconi for the giardiniera.
“Some people try to make their own beef broth,” Boyle said. “They say, ‘I’m going to make a special sandwich out of this.’ But it’s a worker’s sandwich. It’s simple. We try to keep the same traditional way as before.
Mazen Muna, the founder of Dogg Haus, said as long as you honor the classic Chicago model, you can make Italian beef anywhere. “I don’t think it’s difficult,” he said. “If a person buys the right products and doesn’t skimp on quality, location doesn’t make a difference. “
Mr. Caudill, of Roy’s Chicago Dogs in Calif., Thinks the only thing between the sandwich and national fame is understanding customers beyond Cook County.
“It’s pretty funny,” he said. “I’m surprised more people aren’t doing it. Philly Cheese Steak is popular everywhere, but Italian beef is kind of a learning curve.
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