Italian Beef Sandwich in NYC?
I was recently in Chicago and had my first Italian Beef sandwich at Mr. Beef. Basically, it's like a French Dip made with a spicy beef and slathered on with hot peppers and dunked in the beef cooking juices. It was phenomenally delicious.
Here's a greasy little photo:
I'd gander that with NYC's big Italian community this should be easy to find but I've never really seen anything. Have I just not been looking in the right place?
The reason you can't find it in the Italian community is because it's not really an Italian dish. It was created in Chicago by Italian immigrants in the early 1900's...hence the name.
As an ex Chicagoan, I have searched far and wide for one out east, but your best bet is to get a make-it-yourself kit delivered from Portillo's, Vienna Beef or some other Chicago haunt, they turn out just as good as the original.
Just curious. When I was in Florence I had a beef sandwich with a spicy relish, dipped in juice called a Bolito. My Italian isn't that great, but I thought I understood that they have had a sandwich like this around Florence for a long time. When I first visited Chicago a few years ago I had an Italian Beef sandwich and immediately thought I understood why they called it that. It was the closest thing I've ever had to a Bolito and one of the best sandwiches ever. But, not Italian you say?
I tried to get a local Italian deli in my Brooklyn hood to start making these. I gave him recipes, web site links, and told him to watch the Man Vs. Food episode at Al's. He kept saying he'd try it sometime. I thought he'd corner the market and at least get a few write-ups (even the laziest journalist could come up with a NYC vs. Chicago story). Sadly, he never did it and last month they went out of business. They'd been in Brooklyn since the 50's.
pastoralia, i have some good news regarding the italian beef situation.
i recently found out that there IS a place in the greater new york area that serves the chicago-style italian beef sandwich - just not in the city proper. it's available at j's beef, which is located at 902 w. st. georges ave (a.k.a. rt. 27 south) in linden, nj. not sure if you're familiar with that section of the garden state, but if not, linden is a blue-collar suburban town in union county, located 20 miles southwest of midtown manhattan.
i went there yesterday with friends and sampled the italian beef sandwich as well as the chicago-style hot dog. both were pretty authentic and satisfying, though i'd say that the versions i had in chicago were better. still, the food is definitely pretty good. and if you're like me and prefer the italian beef sandwich extra wet, ask the guy making your sandwich to *really* douse the sandwich in the pan juices so it totally sops up the flavor.
also, i should mention that the owner really plays up the windy city connection by lining his walls with various pictures and memorabilia related to famous chicago sports figures. even though i'm not from chicago, i thought it was pretty cool. like a slice of the second city in jersey.
needless to say, worth a trip and highly recommended. and almost certainly the only place in the entire region that makes a truly authentic chicago-style hot dog and italian beef sandwich. the sad attempt at a chicago dog served at shake shack cannot compare.
here are some links regarding this place, including chowhound discussion on the tristate region board:
yeah i love the sandwiches at defonte's. pain in the neck to get to w/o a car, though - you can walk it in 12-15 minutes from the smith st/9th st stop on the F, but you gotta know where you're going, otherwise you can get lost easily. better bet is to drive, as it's right off of the hamilton ave exit of the BQE. and again, get there early - not only do they close no later than 6 (4pm on saturdays, and they might be closed on mon or tue as well as on sun), but i've found that the roast beef tends to be juicier and more delicious the earlier you get there.
as for chicago-style italian beef - yeah, dunno why we don't have an exact replica. it's weird how different cities/regions will develop their own particular style of a general food or dish, each with its own tweaks or idiosyncracies. i've been craving the chicago style ever since my last trip to the windy city a year ago, but the brooklyn style isn't shabby in its own right, either :)
there isn't anything in nyc that's an exact replica of the chicago-style italian beef sandwich (agree that it's delicious, btw) but we do have a rough equivalent in the hot roast beef sandwich that's almost exclusive to brooklyn. here's a great article by sietsema of the village voice from 2002 about the topic:
most of the info. in there is still relevant. of the ones mentioned, i liked monte's, clemente's, and john's. there's also the "special" roast beef hero with fried eggplant and mozzarella at defonte's in red hook, brooklyn. get there early, and remember that they're closed on sundays.