Food Recalls
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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago sandwich’

Hannahs Bretzel Review


They call themselves “Uber Sandwich Makers,” having nothing to do with rides on demand.  Hannah’s Bretzel make quality breakfast and lunch sandwiches with top ingredients and creative condiments at five different locations in downtown Chicago. Baked dessert treats are also on offer, as are daily specials and a couple of healthy-leaning salads and soups.

I opted for the Serrano Ham and Manchego cheese; the standard toppings include shaved fennel and fig chutney, which I passed on. The sandwich, like most items offered in the shop, is served on a pretzel baguette. A second bread choice is a “wecken” ™, which is a bun-shaped pretzel roll. You’ll find that item fairly common in the Northeast, and especially parts of New York State where you’ll hear people order “beef on a weck.”

It was grand. And a bit spendy, about $10 for relatively small sandwich compared to chain sandwich shops But I’m glad I bumped into the place, and would go again.  Full menu.

Hannahs Bretzel Review

Serrano and Manchego

Hannah's Bretzel on Urbanspoon

Hannahs Bretzel Review


Chicago’s Iconic Sandwich – The Italian Beef


Like most locally-specific foods around the US, whether it’s the first coney island style hot dog, or the first pizzeria in America, the origins of Chicago’s iconic sandwich – the Italian Beef – are difficult to sort out.  One story has it that Italian immigrant workers in Chicago’s stockyards brought home tougher cuts of meat, slow roasted them, and then slow marinated / simmered them in a broth chock-a-block full of herbs and spices.  The roast was then thin sliced and served on a durable Italian roll. According to one purveyor of the product,  Scala meats, the sandwich was originally introduced at weddings and festivals as a way of extending the food supply for larger crowds.

One early vendor, Al’s #1 Beef, opened its first Chicago stand in 1938.  While the sandwiches are widely available in Chicago, Northern Illinois and NW Indiana, relocated Chicagoans have started to open their own versions of Italian beef stands around the country, and some of the larger players, like Al’s, and Portillo’s, are expanding through adding corporate outlets or franchising.  Portillo’s has just been sold to a private equity group which  has national ambitions. Chicago’s Vienna Beef, supplier of hot dogs to the nation, also has a beef product for restaurants and consumers, which is available through its own distributors, Sysco, and shipped directly to consumers.

There are a number of ways to order your beef sandwich:

  • Dry – meat is pulled from the broth and allowed to drip prior to placing it on the roll.
  • Wet – meat is not allowed to drip the juices, and the bread has the meat with some broth soaking in the bread
  • Dipped – meat is placed on the sandwich and the entire roll is dipped in the broth

Sandwiches can be dressed with giardiniera (diced, pickled vegetables) or sport peppers; some outlets offer the “cheesy beef”, a sandwich prepared in one of the above manners with the addition of melted mozzarella or provolone.

Outside of Chicago, there’s a directory that can help you find an Italian beef near you.  One enthusiast has memorialized sandwiches at various locations around Chicagoland.

Here’s a slow cooker version of a Portillo’s style Italian beef recipe.

Here are pix of these delicious sandwiches that I have enjoyed.

Italian Beef Review

Cheesy Beef – Mr. Beefy, Fox River Grove, IL

Italian beef review

Michael’s – Portland, OR








Italian Beef



Schaumburg, IL – To Pho Review


I used to work for a company that was owned by a reclusive jillionaire. My office was in Europe, but I maintained a household in the Chicago area that I would escape to on occasion.  On one of those occasions, I got a call from a couple of my superiors at the company, direct connections to the recluse, and they asked me to meet them.  I did.  When I inquired why, they said the man owned Woodfield Shopping Center and had never seen it, so they were gonna go kick the tires and report back.  At the time, Woodfield was the largest and finest mall in the country, and the centerpiece of Schaumburg, a Chicago suburb about ten miles west of O’Hare.  Schaumburg exists primarily to house corporate headquarters, shopping and dining outlets.  I’ve never actually met someone FROM there.

I digress.  I was in Schaumburg, and feelin’ my combo urges of Asian and French, we headed for To Pho to satisfy my craving for a Bahn Mi, and Mrs Burgerdogboy’s favorite  – pho.  (Still don’t know how to pronounce that?  it’s basically said “FAH.”)

It’s  a small place in Schaumburg, where fancy pants restaurants lean towards places like Mortons and Ruths, and casual places are more along the lines of Hooters  or Buffalo Wild Wings.

It was immaculate, and we were seated and waited on promptly.  I opted for the special pork  Bahn Mi, with pork roll, ham, and pork belly, dressed as per tradition with mayo, shredded carrot, cilantro, cucumber and daikon (Asian radish). The baguette used was spot on perfect, could have been from a street bakery in Paris.  Flaky soft exterior, soft as butter in July inside.

Mrs. Burgerdogboy must have not been feeling rightly, as her usual tact is to cram as many calories into a meal as possible, so usually she would have gone with the pho that had beef and pork, and she would have ordered a double side of extra fat back.  But she had the chicken.  The broth is served with traditional accompaniments, including  lime, sprouts, basil, and cilantro.  In the broth with the rice noodles and chicken were green onions.  She be a soup fiend!  I have seen her take an entire week’s worth of groceries and make them into a single bowl.  Truly a magic act (except for trying to figure out dinner for the balance of the week).

We had the spring rolls as a starter, shrimp and pork mixed with rice noodles  and sprouts with a side of peanut sauce.  The  rice paper wrappers were clear and tightly wound.

This place is great. Ultra fresh, great value for the money.   Plus if you buy four sammiches, you get one free!  The restaurant is in a strip mall at 823  E. Algonquin Road in Schaumburg.  Neighbors in the mall include a Chinese restaurant, liquor store, tarot reader and a Subway.

Here’s the full menu.  And now, back to the new farm.  I’ll start a new site / blog about that soon. I’m definitely old, and definitely not “McDonald.”

To Pho Bahn Mi Review

Special Pork Bahn Mi


To Pho Review

Chicken Pho










To Pho Review


Italian Beef Sandwich – A Chicago Icon


Luke's Italian Beef ChicagoIf you’ve walked around Manhattan, you’ve surely seen a pizzeria with some variation of the word “Ray’s” on the sign. The first Ray’s Pizza opened in Greenwich Village in the 50s, the owner eventually opened a second location which he later sold. The new owner retained the name, and subsequent sales and openings have created dozens of variations on the name across the city:  Ray’s, Original Ray’s, Original Ray’s Too, Ray’s Original, and so on.  There’s even a pizzeria called “Not Ray’s.”  Most of the stores are not affiliated with each other in any way.

Similar is the case with a group of unaffiliated restaurants in the Chicago area called “Luke’s.”  Luke’s is a purveyor of typical Chicago fare like hot dogs, sausages, and Italian Beef sandwiches.

As with many local iconic foods around the world, many claim to be the originator of the Italian Beef, but the claims are not verifiable. They are thought to have popped up in the 30s and 40s in homes of Italian immigrants; workers at the Chicago stockyards would bring home tough cuts of meat, slow roast them and then slow simmer them for hours in a beef broth heavy with garlic and herbs.  The beef was then sliced very thin to feed as many people as possible, particularly at large family events.  The sandwich is usually served on a long sturdy Italian-style roll, and the seasoned beef, dripping wet from the broth is tonged out onto the bun. Some people prefer to let the juices run off the meat prior to putting it in the bread, some prefer extra juice, and there’s an enthusiastic crowd for ordering the sandwich “wet”, in which after the meat is placed on the bun, the entire sandwich is dipped in the au jus, making a soaking wet mess of deliciousness on the plate.  De rigueur condiments included a combination of pickled, diced vegetables called  giardiniera ;  some people prefer their beef adorned with sweet or hot sport peppers.

Which brings us to the tale of  the original Luke’s, not affillated at all with any place named Ray’s.  Frank Del Principe, Jr. (Luke) opened his first restaurant in the Chicago  area in 1965, using the beef recipe his mother developed in the 1940s. Luke prospered an opened more restaurants, all serving the same Chicago fare. Eventually, like most Midwesterners Frank yearned for a warmer clime, and relocated to Tuscon.  He sold the Chicago restaurants to family members and employees, and opened “Little Luke’s” in Arizona. So today there are Luke’s around Chicagoland, similar logos, menus, but not affiliated. Some relatives of the Del Principes have also opened beef restaurants under different names.

I love Italian Beef sandwiches, and since I live by the credo of “excess is not enough”, I order the combo, which includes a spicy grilled Italian sausage plopped in the middle of the gravy-laden beef.

Winging my way to O’Hare last night to evacuate to my own warmer climes, I zipped past a Luke’s and stopped in for a light repast. Daring to be boldly different, I went to the Italian meatball sandwich, with a side of fries.  It was over the top in ample.  I was only able to eat about a third of the sandwich before putting the rest of it away to take out later and annoy somebody on the plane. The shoestring fries were hot, crispy, and nicely seasoned.   A bite of a burger proved that to be a winner too, a nice sized hand-formed patty cooked on a charco-grill. Not sure the guy at the next table appreciated my helping myself to taste his burger, but hey, that’s how I roll.

That was my recent experience at a Luke’s.  Since they are all independently owned, your results may vary.  Below is a pic of the meatball sub, and a fake Italian Beef I had in Portland, OR a couple years ago.

Luke's Beef, Chicago Review

Michael's Italian Beef Portland

Michael’s Italian Beef Portland




Italian beef sandwich


Mike Ditkas Italian Beef Review


Mike Ditka Italian Beef ReviewMike Ditka, ex professional football player, ex NFL coach, has been on a licensing spree lately; in addition to his restaurants, Ditka is now rivaling Donald Trump (including questionable hair) for an expanding product line:  wine, steaks, cigars, and now Chicago style foods.

I don’t know shit about football; the closest I ever came to the sport was working a grade school carnival with Mike Singletary and Walter Payton, also former Chicago Bears;  our kids all attended the same school.  Oh, and I went to the annual NFL game in London one year, for work purposes.

In any case,  Ditka’s “Chicago foods” are a recent addition to his line up.   Ditka has two different sausage varieties, a hot beef polish, and a tomato/cheese chicken.  It’s not likely I’d ever try the poultry one, just not my thing, but I did try the polish when it was launched, and liked it.  It’s a big one, too, a third pound,and requires a substantial bun for cradling.

Ditka has now joined the several Italian Beef kits sold in Chicago grocers; after all, it is the official sandwich of Chicagoans.  All come with beef and seasonings frozen in a block or tub of au jus, and merely require gentle heating before strategically placing the meat in your choice of roll and dressing it as you are so inclined.

Here’s the important part.  I’ve often heard from people how they are disappointed in the frozen Italian beef, and almost universally, upon questioning, I have found out that often the source of their disappointment is that they did not follow the instructions on the package.  For this product to turn out like anything resembling the restaurant version, two things must occur:  1) you have to thoroughly and completely THAW the product before heating, in the frig or on the counter top, and 2) GENTLE heating is all that required.  Bring it to a boil and you’ll hate the result.  So, repeat after me:  THAW. GENTLE.  Ok, we’re good to go.

Ditka’s ingredients are pretty straight forward,  the beef portion contains seasonings, oregano and flavorings.  The gravy ingredient list is a little lengthier, and does contain a number of different salts as well as MSG, if you’re a pussy about that kind of stuff.  In the pic below of the unprepared product, you’ll note the red color, I’m not sure where that comes from.

The package is 2.25 pounds for five servings, and costs around $9, which is right around the same price point as its competitors.

Heated it for awhile, and ready to consume, I chose a short French roll, for its durability, as an Italian beef can get messy. There’s three ways to order Italian beef in Chicago, dry, wet, or dipped.  Dry means they tong the beef out of the au jus and let most of it run off the meat before placing it in the bun.  Wet means no dripping, and perhaps a little gravy ladled on the sandwich.  Dipped?  Beef in the roll, no drip, and dipping the entire sandwich in the au jus.  Soggy and delicious.  It’s an acquired taste.

You should also specify whether or not you want giardiniera on it, a pickled relish of diced garden vegetables (celery, cauliflower, carrots, jalapenos, oregano, and garlic) preferred by locals.  Top or not with peppers, sweet or hot. Feeling bold? Ask for a “beef combo” and that will get you the delicious beef sandwich with a full Italian sausage nestled in the beef!

So back at home, I loaded my bun with a little too much meat, and plated it along side some home made potato chips (I was kitchen-motivated today).

Of the half dozen frozen Italian beef products I am aware of,  I’ve got to say, this is my favorite.  The gravy is very flavorful, and the beef is a quality cut.  Good job, coach.


Mike Ditka Italian Beef Review

In the tub


Mike Ditka Italian Beef Review



Mike Ditka's Italian Beef Review


Mike Ditkas Italian Beef Review


Barrington, IL – The Bread Basket Restaurant Review


Had a craving for corned beef today, out in the old stomping grounds of idyllic Barrington, IL. So it was off to the Bread Basket, one of the two old standbys for locals in the village. (The other being “The Canteen“).   Been here dozens of times, back in the day, it was a favorite of my daughter when she was coming up.

I opted for the corned beef on rye, and the waitress told me “some people like it cold,” to which I retorted, “no, it’s supposed to be warm.”

End of discussion.

It was a good sandwich, lean corn beef, probably from Vienna, many restaurants in the Chicago area use that supplier, and they have a great product.

My only “beef?”  The restaurant uses “extruded” fries. That’s a potato product, a slurry of  mashed potato-like batch is whipped up, and then “fry-shape” pieces are shoved through a mold and flash frozen. They get a certain crispness on the outside, and are smooth and soft inside.  Just not my favorite.

But!  I was there just before closing, so the waitress gave me a go-cup of coffee, gratis.  Score!  (Great coffee, too, btw).

Bread Basket Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Barrington Restaurants

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