Over the past several months there have been a couple posts here that really surprised me (well, make that one more, but Chucks Chicago Roll is in a class by itself). First, Elaines discussion of Spanish chorizo in Gary, Indiana and then Bluskies57s post about Italian beef on 32nd Street in Bridgeport. Gary is pretty much terra incognita to me but Ive certainly been to Bridgeport before and Im not even sure I realized there were businesses on that stretch of 32nd. So a few weeks ago I checked out Uncle Johnnys.
This is a real neighborhood Italian corner grocery that looks unchanged for many decades, right down to the ancient wood and glass coolers along the back wall. The store is quite small, with mostly regular groceries and some packaged goods with an Italian slant but few things out of the ordinary. If youre looking for special olive oils, cheeses etc, go elsewhere.
At the front counter you can get Chicagitalian sandwiches made to order. In addition to cold subs they have Italian beef, sausage, meatball, steak, and breaded steak. I tried an Italian beef, a meatball, and a breaded steak. Things are clearly prepared to order; I could hear them beating/tenderizing my steak in the back, then I saw it being pan fried on a home-style gas stove. Beef is already sliced but gets dunked in gravy just before being put on the bread.
The Italian beef was very good--very thin slices of good quality beef in a very salty but tasty gravy. Giardiniera was good but perhaps not homemade. The one problem was the bread. I think they get it from Michelles (at least their packaged breads come from there) and it just didnt have the required texture--too puffy. Still a very respectable sandwich. Uncle Johnnys sells beef by the pound ($7.50; advance notice requested) and that might really be the way to go. I still remember the sandwich of Chickies beef on the Fox & Obel baguette that Gary brought to the first beef tasting. Then maybe a little giardiniera from Bari Foods and youd have a sandwich to be reckoned with.
Breaded steak was good but not without flaws. The meat itself was excellent, without a trace of gristle or sinew that sometimes ruins an otherwise fine sandwich. Breading was good and not greasy (but there was a trace of old oil flavor) though it could have used a tad more seasoning. Eaten after the beef it seemed rather bland. Red sauce, sparingly applied, and sweet peppers were nothing special.
The football shaped meatballs were pretty good and came in quite a bit of sweetish red sauce. Again the bread was the weak link and the sweet peppers didnt add much. If this sandwich could have been topped with some mozzarella plus maybe a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and baked on the bricks of a pizza oven it could have been great.
While youre waiting for your sandwich be sure to tip your head back and take in the wonders of the Elvis shrine up on the top shelf.
Uncle Johnny's Grocery
500 W 32nd St
Mon-Sat 7-6, Sun 8-3
In summer Mon-Fri to 8pm