Italian beef, Chicago-style. Yum!
Yea, you can pretty much take one quick look at me and know that I enjoy me some good grub.
A meat-and-potatoes guy all the way. And where's the beef? Chicago, baby.
That's why I didn't have to think twice when my sister Jennifer -- in from California for my daughter Emily's wedding in the Windy City last weekend -- asked if I wanted to go try and find some real Chicago Italian beef.
After all, eating a soggy, juice-dripping, mouth-watering Italian beef sandwich is a Chicago tradition right up there with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and Bozo's Grand Prize Game.
I mean, we Chicagoans even have our own eating stance when it comes to inhaling Italian beef. Yes, the true experience is to conquer the tasty beef by standing and eating at the counter.
Set your sandwich down, step back, spread your legs about 18 inches apart, lean forward from the waist and dig in. That way, when you bite into this juicy bit of heaven, the au jus drips onto the counter or the floor, not your tie or shirt or jeans. Ah, memories ...
I guess this must be what DePauw University alums experience when they return to Greencastle and campus hangout Marvin's. Breathing in that initial telltale hint of garlic, the heavenly aroma that is the GCB (garlic cheeseburger for the uninitiated) certainly creates the same rush.
Our quest for Italian beef reminds me of that "M*A*S*H" episode in which Cpl. Klinger craves Hungarian hotdogs from Tony Packo's in his Toledo hometown and has a bunch of them shipped to Korea. Comfort food for sure. Like Italian beef, the taste and the atmosphere get in your blood.
We grew up on the stuff. A pound of beef, a quart of juice and a long, crooked french bread from Carm's fed my family dinner on a Saturday night. Mom and Dad used to bring that combination down to Bloomington when they visited me during me first job there.
Fortunately for me, I went to a suburban high school, Proviso East, perfectly positioned with an Al's Italian Beef right across the street. So there were many times we pigged out there as my waistline can certainly attest.
But being up in the northern suburbs (Lincolnshire) for the wedding, Jennifer, hubby Ken and I weren't certain we would find beef among the country clubs, shopping malls and all.
But asking a couple of locals for help sent us cruising over to Portillo's -- sadly unceremoniously positioned perpendicular to a Target store instead of tucked into a neighborhood of brownstones and storefronts -- to fulfill our Quest for Beef.
A nice, soggy bun with heaps of beef and sweet peppers, and we were in heaven. Sadly, we caved in and joined the masses in nuvo suburban style -- sitting in wimpy booths instead of standing, eating and dripping in ecstasy.
Yes, one big bite and I was home again. Your taste buds don't lie to you
This was sweet home, Chicago