Ever since the demise of Giorgio's of Chicago in Laguna Niguel 18 months ago, I have been keeping my eyes open for some real Chicago-style food, especially italian beef. I had heard about 3 places which I have been recommending to people here and elsewhere...Taste Chicago in Burbank (new), Anthony's Chicago Style in Redlands (new) and Windy C's in Upland. In addition, I had given a thumbs up to one place I had been to -- Taste of Chicago way up in Grover Beach (between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo).
I need to preface the rest of this note by stating the last time there was a thread here about italian beef in January (see link) and I had mentioned the above places another person had responded with a so-so review/comment of Windy C's. Well, apparently the owner of Windy C's thought I was the one who gave the negative review and wrote me a somewhat nasty E-Mail. When I wrote back stating that I was the one promoting and recommending his place even without visiting and NOT the one who criticized it, I did not even receive the courtesy of a response, let alone what should have been an apology.
That being said, I made the trek out to Windy C's on Saturday along with my 5 year old son. Windy C's is located in a busy suburban shopping center area and is a much smaller storefront and interior than what I had expected...only 2 tables that seat a total of 6 people with some outside seating as well. It appears the majority of biz is carry-out. The store was decorated with some Chicago memorabilia...sports, photos, Vienna Beef posters and the like, and "Chicago" magazines lined the side counter. A large menu lined one wall, primarily listing the multitude of hot dog choices. I was a bit disappointed to find there was no restroom, but the place was serviceable if nothing fancy. I ordered an italian beef and fries and got my son a corn dog.
The corn dog was fine...a standard Vienna Beef fried nicely. THe fries were very good shoestrings...ours were a tad underdone but fine, comparable to McD's (which as far as fries go is a compliment). The italian beef? Good flavor but disappointing. Probably Gonella bread which is a plus to go along with Vienna Beef but the "gravy" was very salty and the sandwich was surprisingly small (not much meat) for the $5.35. I guess by SoCal standards it isn't too pricey (hey how much is a ticket to Chicago?) but I couldn't help but think of what you get at Portillo's for $5.00 or from Johnnie's for less than $3.00! I'm not a peppers/giardinera fan so I can't comment there. I do wish they would have italian sausage as well...I was yearning for a combo!
As for service and related, again, a bit disappointing. Only one person there and I believe he is the owner. He spent the entire time I was there either on his cell phone or in the back room and didn't say anything to us other than "here's your order". At 5PM on a Saturday, only one other customer came in during the 45 minutes we were there. Windy C's also sells the Vienna Beef Italian Beef to-go "kits" at $40 (about 8 sandwiches worth I think)...Costco and Sam's Club in the Chicago area sell the same thing w/o the bread for $10. Again, good stuff but the value is questionable in my opinion.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed. I really want to see locally owned small businesses do well, and especially a place like this with potentially real good food (I imagine they do up the hot dogs pretty well). However, for my visit, the execution and value just wasn't there. Will I go back? You know, if I'm out that way, maybe next time I go to Ontario Mills, I'll probably give it another try...or keep driving to try Anthony's in Redlands. For the Chicagoan yearning to find some comfort food, this could become a favorite spot, though.