While in the Chicago area for a few days, I've been able to sample a variety of one of the finest sandwiches known to man or woman -- the italian beef/sausage combo. Little known outside of Chicago, it is a gastronomic pleasure of likes rarely found, at least IMHO. Here are brief comments about 3 of the most famous places as well as a popular chain restaurant (sandwiches ordered w//o peppers or giardinera):
4th Place: Al's #1 Beef. Geez, this is like Car & Driver comparing the BMW 330i, Audi A4, Infiniti G35 and Acura TL-S. There ain't no loser here (by the way, can anyone drop me about $35K so I can buy one of these?). Nevertheless, Al's beef is thicker and tougher than the others, and pretty expensive for a smallish sandwich. THe "gravy" is more reddish than others, and the sausage a bit spicier. Extra points for excellent fries. Lots of workers just standing around and the place could be a bit cleaner, but at least I could park there (see below)
3rd Place: Carm's. Ok, 2 blocks from Al's and the parking sucks. Everything else is pretty darn good, including the italian ice. Sandwich was big and a decent value, although it didn't have much flavor to it. Friendliest people and service -- nice to be called "hon" not once, but twice.
2nd Place: Portillo's. OhMyGod, a chain! Heaven forbid! Damn, they do their food right, whether it be the beef/sausage, dogs, burgers, superb crinkle fries, a killer chocolate cake, my sis's grilled veggie sandwich, et al. IF they'd do free refills on soft drinks, I'd move in! This place is an always-busy money making factory. Could I please franchise this place/concept in California?
1st Place: Johnnie's Beef, Elmwood Park. There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn't like the place, from the non-descript location to the line out the door to the "pressure" of ordering correctly. Heck, this is great food at an unbelievable value. Once you order, your food is ready hot and fast, and it is GOOD! Excellent homemade italian ice, very good fries and a sandich that has just the right amount of spiciness and juiciness. Biggest drawback is the location -- not really convenient to any interstate/tollway.
There are SO many other great places to get beef/sausage sandiwiches from, but I wanted to hit some of the biggies and give and opinion. As I said up top, it's hard to go wrong with any of 'em. Enjoy!
Bob in RSM, CA