Aside from the fact that the title of this article sounds like nothing short of a cheesy pornographic film, there really are standards to ordering this Chicago staple sandwich. Now I must confess, I had no idea what an Italian Beef sandwich was until I moved to Chicago a little over 6 years ago (yes, yes- one of the Illiana Foodie bloggers isn’t actually from Illinois or Indiana- but I’ve been transformed into a mid-westerner so let’s move past that).
I think I truly understood the importance of the Italian Beef sandwich one night at a party. I was standing in the kitchen of my friend’s house with a group of people and all of a sudden one of them quite aggressively and randomly shouted, “F*** Philadelphia and f*** the Philly cheese-steak! It’s all about the Italian Beef!” I’ve learned Illiana folks are quite passionate about 2 main things: their sports and of course their food. Admittedly, I’m okay with that.
Although I tried the Italian Beef sandwich from several different places throughout my time here so far, I still had no idea what an Italian Beef sandwich was until I went to Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park, IL. I don’t live too far from the Elmwood Park area and every time I drive by on North avenue when Johnnie’s is open, there’s a long line out the door and into the parking lot. I finally decided to wait in that long line to see what all the fuss was about, and let me tell you…I was not disappointed.
Dry, wet, dipped, sweet or hot, cheese or no cheese, do you want fries with that, and do you want a pop? You better know what you’re doing and have those questions answered before getting to the counter, because they move fast and they don’t have time to listen to your hemming and hawing.
For all of you first time Italian Beef eaters- here’s what you need to know:
- Dipped– beef is pulled from the juice, put in the roll and then the entire sandwich is dipped into the beef juice. This is the soggy version folks!
- Wet– means the beef is pulled from the juice and placed into the roll. Some places will also add an extra spoonful of juice on the beef before closing the sandwich (Johnnie’s Beef does the extra spoonful. This is what I ordered and my personal recommendation).
- Dry– most of the juice is dripped off from the beef before putting in the roll and no juice is added to the sandwich
- Sweet– roasted green bell peppers
- Hot– hot giardiniera (like an Italian relish w/ peppers)
- Cheese or no cheese– self-explanatory but depending on where you’re going, it could be mozzarella or provolone. (Johnnie’s Beef does not offer a cheese- but don’t worry, you won’t need it).
- Fries and/or pop– of course varies on the place you’re going to, but if you’re going to Johnnie’s Beef– get the fries! (Now I just want to mention again that I am not originally from Chicago- more like Southern California- so writing or saying the word “pop” versus “soda” has been a struggle. I am still learning the mid-western lingo- no matter how wrong mid-westerners may be). 😉
So what’s the deal with Johnnie’s Beef?
Well, I’ll tell you…the deal is amazing.
I ended up ordering the Italian Beef sandwich, wet, sweet, and of course added the fries. The total of this meal cost me $7.55. Johnnie’s Beef is set up as a “pick-up-and-go” place, but if you want to eat there they do provide outside seating. Everything is placed in a plain brown paper bag, grab some napkins on your way out, and you’re good to go.
The fries taste fresh, not too salty, and cooked perfectly. If you’re someone who likes extra salt on the fries, then you’ll probably feel like you need to add more. Unravelling the Italian Beef sandwich from it’s paper holdings, you can start to smell all the ingredients right away. The taste has a nice peppery element to it, but don’t worry- it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the ingredients. Ordering the sandwich wet, in my opinion, is perfect because the bread is moist but not too soggy and you really get that extra beefy taste from the added broth.
There are chopped onions that you’ll see as well- most likely cooked down with the broth or peppers; but again- adds to the full experience and does not over power anything else.
Final Review of Johnnie’s Beef:
You gotta go!
If you’re traveling to the Illiana states or if you already live here, make the trip to 7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL and I promise you it will be a sandwich you won’t forget!
Johnnie’s Beef ultimately helped this SoCal native understand why so many people here are obsessed with their Italian Beef, and why the Philly Cheesesteak really should go f*** itself.
Writer’s Spin on the Italian Beef:
Italian Beef Bites
- Sourdough Bread
- 1/2 cup Beef Broth
- Provolone Cheese (couple slices)
- Italian Beef
- 1 Green Bell Pepper chopped
- 1 tbs of Olive Oil
- Black Pepper
Heat up your Italian Beef to it’s instructions. (You can find pre-made Italian Beef in the freezer section of your grocery store). I used a Chicago favorite- Buona Beef. The instructions on the Buona Beef say to either let defrost overnight or in microwave for 10 minutes before use- I had to defrost mine in the microwave for about 20 minutes.
While your Italian Beef is defrosting or heating up, in a 10 inch frying pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté your chopped green bell peppers with black pepper and salt to taste. This should take about 5 minutes. Reducing to low-medium heat, add in the beef broth. Do not pull out peppers until broth is gone (about 8-10 minutes) and stir occasionally. (See images below- picture to the right is what your peppers should look like after the broth has been added).
Slice the sourdough bread (about 1 inch thick) and then cut into squares (about 2×2 inches). Put them into your toaster oven until slightly browned on the top.
Add about 1 teaspoon of broth from your already prepared Italian Beef to the toasted sourdough pieces, add a layer of provolone, a layer of the beef, and a few pieces of the green bell peppers on top.
Now I am not saying this is as good as a full Italian Beef sandwich, but it is super yummy and a fun little appetizer! Next time I make this (because it is just that good), I am going to toast the provolone with the sourdough bread so it melts a little better. Either way though- delicious.
Until next time!