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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Italian’

Buona Beef Grocery Review


Buona Beef Grocery ReviewI’ve written a lot about Chicago’s Italian Beef sandwich. The easiest way to explain it to those not familiar is to say it’s a highly seasoned French Dip, but the “Dip” part is not on the side but involves dunking the entire sandwich in au jus (only if desired).  You can read my explanation of the origin if you like.

There are myriad restaurants that sell these marvels, many supplied by Chicago’s Vienna Beef Company, some shops that make their own. Used to be another big supplier, Scala, but I don’t see their product anymore, so don’t know if they are around or not. Devanco is another one, each of these probably does private label as well, and there are undoubtedly a number I don’t know about.

Many of these companies package for retail sale, you can find them at Chicago area grocery stores. I’ve tried and written about a lot of them, including Vienna and Mike Ditka’s for instance.

Enter Buona Beef, a mini-chain of Chicagoland restaurants specializing in Chicago foods – Beef, hot dogs, burgers, pizza.  I visited one for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s quality, good food, efficient (counter) service.  They are supplied by a commissary/factory that they own, and they are also in the private label business, but lately, I’m seeing product in the stores under their own label. Italian Beef, Meatballs, and a couple other things in their line.

The product comes frozen solid in different weights. It is priced competitively, (but I think they are all too high, actually, I’d buy more if it cost less). I can tell you from experience (and the instructions on the package)  THAW FIRST. On an analog basis!  (Meaning in the frig overnight or on the counter for a few hours – not in the microwave!).  Then eat on a very gentle basis in a saucepan, select your bun/rol (in Chicago, Turano’s seems to be the preference).

Tong the meat into the bun if you want it “dry,”  add some jus to the bun if you want it “wet” or dunk the entire bun in jus for “wet.” Chicagoans often have the sandwich dressed with “giardiniera” a mixture of finely diced pickled vegetables, which can be hot or mild.  Melted mozzarella on top? That’s called a “cheezy beef.”  Wanna feel like a real insider?  Ask for a “Combo” which is an Italian Beef sandwich with an Italian sausage nestled in the beef (pictured).

Buona’s grocery product is good, very flavorful, nice slices of pure muscle beef, not a chopped, pressed, formed product like some companies. The ingredients list (pictured below) is straightforward and free of additives.  Up to this point in my life, as far as grocery store Italian Beef goes, Ditka’s was my favorite.  But now it’s a tie. So I’ll buy by price from here on out.

Haven’t tried Buona’s meatballs, will get around to that soon, I hope.  Buona does ship product, if you have a craving.

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Ingredient List

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Into the pan, prior to heating

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Italian Beef “Combo” “Dry”



Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Beef Grocery Review



Italian Village Review, Chicago, IL


Italian Village Restaurant Review ChicagoI generally eschew “legends” in the restaurant business (exception, New Orleans), as I have found over and over again, so many of them are resting on their laurels of decades ago.

Such is not the case with The Italian Village, really three restaurants under one roof in downtown Chicago, is the city’s oldest Italian restaurant, serving the ‘old-school classics.’

Opened in 1927, on the top floor, you’ll find “The Village,” serving all of America’s favorite Italian appetizers and entrees.   On the ground floor, Vivere takes a contemporary approach to an Italian menu, and own a flight of stairs, “La Cantina,” serves some of the age-old favorites of the restaurant and adds a selection of steaks and chops to the offering, in a more casual atmosphere; those meat selections run from $29 – $40.

I was last in the Italian Village about 35 years ago, and had fond memories of it.  Had my memories been jaded by time?  Would it not live up to my memory?  I’m delighted to say it exceeded my expectations on every level.

Service, quality of ingredients, size of servings, and value.  At the table were spaghetti and sausage, clams in pasta (available but not on the menu), appetizers of a caprese salad, beef carpacio, an extra side of meatballs, and a mostacoli in a spicy arribiata sauce. (red sauce with chili peppers and garlic).  And bread. And butter. And olive oil.  In seemingly endless quantities.

Many of the entrees are cooked to order, and the menu cautions you on the wait time for those.

The food was delicious, service attentive but not intrusive, interesting decor to look at, and private booths tucked away in little alcoves if you’re desirous of a more discrete event.

The restaurants are open seven days for lunch and dinner, with private faclities available for small and medium size parties.

Dinner for four, ample glasses of wine, gratutity:  $240.  Valet parking at the door for $12.  You know, I didn’t ask, but you might when you call, if it’s a concern.  I don’t think there’s an elevator to the top floor restaurant, I made my way up a rather lengthy flight of stairs that lands at the front door.

(photos are from the internet)

Italian Village Restaurant Review Chicago
Italian Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Italian Village Review


Nottoli Italian Market Review, Chicago, IL

Nottoli Italian Foods Chicago

Meatballs in Sauce

I’ve been on a tear lately, chasing down “ethnic” markets to explore new tastes and ingredients. I’m happy with my finds for Indian, Asian, and Eastern European, and this weekend, I stumbled on an amazing Italian market, Nottoli, which has imported canned and boxed groceries, an outstanding meat counter, and created in-house fresh and frozen prepared foods.

They also make sandwiches and single serving size entrees to take out. Often when you (or at least I) run into a shop like this, the prices are a little spendy, which I understand, lower volume, the need to make a profit. Not so at Nottoli – while I was impressed with the selection and quality of their products, most of their offerings are an extremely good value, and I picked up a number of Italian meats at considerably less per pound than any of the groceries in my neighborhood.

Nottoli Italian Foods Menu

Fresh Hot Italian Sausage

They sell prepared pasta dishes, meatballs, and sauces.Their red gravy (spaghetti sauce) is outstanding.If I make it at home, it’s a three day project, and mine can’t compete with Nottolis. I’ll buy and freeze in quantity from here on out.

I picked up a few pounds of different dry salamis, the hot Soppresata is fantastic. I also picked up some fresh “hot” Italian sausage, heavy on the fennel, and it’s outstanding as well.What I like most of all about traditionally cured meats, is they actually taste like the animal they came from, they haven’t been beat to hell by curing agents so that the true meat flavor has nearly vanished. Grabbed some tasty meatballs in sauce, too, they didn’t make it home!

If you’re looking for Italian specialties in Chicago, you can rely on Nottoli for quality product at good prices.These prices are about 1/3 of that monster “WalMart sized” Eataly downtown. They have a catering business as well, offering hot and cold trays.The take out and catering menu is posted below.

The deli is open 7 days at 8:30 AM and is just south of I-90 at 5025 North Harlem Avenue.It’s walking distance from the Blue Line Harlem Station, too!

Nottoli Italian Foods Chicago

Dry Salamis

Nottoli Italian Foods Menu


Nottoli Italian Foods Menu


Nottoli Italian Foods Menu


Nottoli Italian Foods Menu
Nottoli Italian Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato






































Nottoli Italian Market Review


Lake In the Hills, IL – Moretti’s Ristorante Pizza Review


On their home page, Moretti’s poses the question: “Are we a sit-down restaurant? Pizza joint? Sports bar? Banquet Hall?” And I came away asking myself the same questions. The site further sez: “Something for everyone” is kind of cliché, but we can’t help ourselves.” Which reminds me of another cliche, “jack of all trades, master of none.”  (Incidentally, to add one more “option”, late nights this location turns into a dance club, open until 4AM).

Part of the massive Ala Carte Entertainment group, I am sure the company rakes in millions, and this large suburban location certainly helps fill the coffers.

It’s Friday nite, and eschewing the usual Chicagoland dining out choice of heading for a fish fry, I check out the LITH location of Moretti’s, hadn’t been there before, had a choice of four different pizza places at that street intersection alone, and Moretti’s – luck of the draw.

It’s huge, and you arrive in the front door, are greeted (hopefully) by a host/hostess, to the right is a large bar with dozens of television screens blaring with sports, and ahead are several dining rooms including outdoor spaces overlooking scenic Randall Road.

The massive menu offers everything from appetizers to pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, wraps, Italian entree dinners, soups, salads, steaks, chicken, fish, desserts, and ‘family style dinners.’  (one from column A, two from column B).  I imagine most people take some time with the menu.

Our server wasn’t present. Oh, she was physically there, but she was “phoning it in” that night, just not really paying attention to her guests. Tracking her down became one of the games of the night – not easy in the cavernous establishment.  What always interests me is why people go into the “hospitality” business if they don’t find being “hospitable” easy and natural.  Our server had all the assets to have a great tip night, personable, great smile;  but she just wasn’t interested in engaging or taking care of her parties – even the larger tables which should generate a nice tip.

We started with the onion rings, “thick, hand cut coconut breaded with sweet coconut and served with sweet chili sauce.”  $6.99 for six rings. The rings were pretty ok, thick as advertised, a panko-like coating.  For me, the sweet sauce isn’t the best choice for an accompaniement, a savory version might be more interesting.

The Apple Pecan salad is a chef’s dream turned into a nightmare. Creative, yes. Does it work? No. Baby spinach, candied pecans, bacon, artichoke hearts, marinated apple slices, roasted peppers, raisins, provolone and honey balsamic vinagrette.  What were they thinking? What was I thinking?  Ok, I wasn’t, somebody else ordered it, and I’m glad it didn’t come around to my side of the table. This might have worked with fewer and higher quality, fresher ingredients, but as it was/is served, it’s just a mess.  A ten dollar mess.

Pizza?  My personal ‘joke’ has always been there is “no such thing as a bad pizza.”  I’ll stick to that here, but I learned there are pizzas I certainly don’t care for.  Despite an appearance to please, Moretti’s pizza is food for the masses, designed and constructed to offend no one, and as such, has no flavor in the indidivual ingredients, nor when they come together.

Corn meal.  A ‘trick’ in the pizza business to make a crispier crust, a  faster bake….this dough prep overdoes it on corn meal, and it doesn’t make for a pleasurable experience.  It does make a crispy cracker-like crust, but the corn taste comes through the wheat flour as well as spills off the bottom.  Ick.  Toppings are from any average pizzeria supplier, little bits of sausage and canned olives.  And north of $20.

Regular readers know my personal test for quality pizza is how it tastes the next morning (now).  Answer?  No better or worse. I just had one slice.  Unusual for me, I’m tossing the rest.

To recap:

  • Massive facility with zero ambience
  • Service near to non-existent
  • Mediocre food
  • Overpriced

Sounds like a recipe for success on the American restaurant scene.  But if you’re OK with this type of food, at a check for over $50 for a pizza, salad, appy and one beer, you’d be far better off to out a couple of times at any of the fast casual chains offering two dinners for $20 or whatever the current promotion is.

It would seem, to me, that the Ala Carte Entertainment group is primarily in the bar business, and serves food as a sideline.  They should think about giving up the sideline.

I try to stay on the positive side in my reviews, and generally find something redeeming about any stop; sorry to say I was S-O-L in doing that here.

Moretti's Chicago

Sausage Pizza

(Eds note:  I never read other reviews before I publish mine, but on occasion, look at some after the fact.  It would appear my feelings about this joint are not all that unique.  It would appear that the organization needs to work on training and motivation).

Moretti's Ristorante on Urbanspoon


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