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Jan 4, 2008 05:30 PM

Vienna Italian Beef @ Hot Dog City

Last weekend I cruised by Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall and spotted the signs at Hot Dog City promoting Italian Beef, Italian Sausage, or combo from Vienna Beef. The Chicago hot dog here is super, so I didn't hesitate to give the Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich a try. My only previous experience with this sandwich genre was a few years ago at the former Gumbah's in Vallejo. Now I have another datapoint.

Image of Hot Dog City's Italian beef sandwich -

The first thing I noticed was how the bun had some heft to it here and didn't get soggy despite the considerable amount of gravy and oil from the spicy peppers. In fact when i picked up the sandwich to take the first bite, the juices drained off the roll to make a deep bi-colored puddle on the paper liner of the plastic basket. Despite this run-off, the thinly shaved beef was still quite juicy, and don't worry, I did mop of the juices with the end of the bun for each bite.

With a uniform thickness, the beef was more tender and thinner here. It had more of a processed yet fuller flavor and more succulence vs. the fresh roasted and plainer taste but drier and thicker cut meat at Gumbah's. Hot Dog City's gravy didn't taste as much like beef bouillon and had less assertive dried herb notes than Gumbah's. The Vienna beef tasted fine on its own, whereas Gumbah's definitely needed all the fixings.

I'd ordered with sweet and hot peppers and both were heaped on. The sweet peppers were fleshy slabs of roasted green bells. The giardiniera here was almost all carrots and peppers, didn't spot the cauliflower and celery in Gumbah's homemade blend. And it was rife with sport peppers. Too hot for me, I pulled most of them out and counted 17 pencil eraser-sized chunks left behind.

The Vienna Beef sandwich here was easier to eat (only needed three napkins) and had tastier meat. Yet, it didn't have the same individuality that Gumbah's rendition offered. I guess it's the difference between a faithfully executed mass-produced meal and a slightly-off but handmade and quirky one. The winner would be a combination of the two.

Chili dog -

Chicago dog -

Rajun Cajun -

Gumbah's Italian beef -

Hot Dog City
631 4th St Ste 1, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Hot Dog City - CLOSED, moved
804 Coddingtown Center, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

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  1. Yeah, the mass produced Vienna or Scala beef is usually shaved very thin, and from my experience, the meat is heated up in the gravy/jus, so there is no chance of it being drier like possibly hand-sliced or thicker from scratch kind. Of note, the current Cook's Country mag covers Chicago Style Italian Roast Beef and somehow gets the sandwich wrong- they mix the giardineira with mayo to top the sandwich, and I've never ever had it that way. The giardineira you describe is very common for the "hot" style, almost all sport peppers. Many brands that have "mild" versions" replace most of the sport peppers with more carrot, celery, and cauliflower. Gumbah's homemade (can't remember their new name) is kind of in between "hot" and "mild"- has more crunch and variety just like Melanie states, but isn't quite as hot. A reminder to those unfamiliar with Chicago-style giardiniera- the vegetables in the mix are diced into smaller, more regular pieces and packed in an oil/brine mix. The giardineira you can get in the store here (Mezzeta and maybe Pastene brands) are larger pieces of vegetable packed in brine, and the peppers are usually banana or pepperoncini. Chicago-style brands like Scala, Vienna and Il Primo get some of their distinctive taste from sport peppers (instead of banana peppers or pepperoncini) and the oil/brine mix.

    Gumbah's beef is overseasoned, but their gravy/jus has more flavor than a sometimes watery or flavorless gravy/jus some mass-produced places have. If the gravy is on the light/no-taste side, the beef sandwich calls for the combo with italian sausage for an extra flavor kick. Melanie is exactly right that the best Italian Beef is kind of right down the middle between the one she describes at Gumbah's in Vallejo and the straight-ahead Vienna variation she had at Hot Dog City.

    4 Replies
    1. re: P. Punko

      Thanks for your comments. With experience N=2 deep, all I can do is describe what I put in my mouth!

      Yes, I believe the beef slices were heated in the gravy. In typical Hot Dog City fashion, the sandwich was assembled quite precisely. I'd bet that this was as good a version of Vienna Beef's product as you'll find.

      Gumbah's Italian Beef (see West Side Cafe
      )138 Tennessee St, Vallejo, CA 94590

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Rolls at Italian Beef places are usually a slightly spongier Italian roll- I believe Colombo makes one that works around here- and they behave just like you decribed- they don't collapse/dissolve as fast as a French Dip style, and aren't toasted either. I love it when you go to these places- you always get me wishing I were up North. The packaged/bulk chicago style stuff a lot of these restaurants get are usually perfectly satisfying for the specific taste they have in Chicago (if only because many of the Chicagoland places go that same route), but the attention to detail is always up to the actual establishment to make sure they are doing it correctly. I have been to Hot Dog City, and they know what they are doing. If I remember correctly, though, I wish they had some great fries (I seem to only remember potato chips).

        Just to also add: some Italian Beef places will dip the entire sandwich in the gravy/jus ( a "wet" sandwich)- this is too much for me. My mother-in-law worked at a restaurant as a teenager, and she'd just ladle a little extra on the roll before adding the meat- this is how I like it, with maybe some extra gravy on the side.

        From your experience, Melanie, I'd say the Vienna Beef version you had would go great as the combo with Italian sausage- does Hot Dog City have the combo?

        I do my best to educate the board on one of my favorite indulgences, as the Bay Area just can't seem to keep this style place afloat. They don't have the taste for it yet.

        1. re: P. Punko

          That must be it. The roll was heated but not toasted. I checked the inside because I was quite astounded at how it could have this "teflon" effect with nearly a third of a cup of jus/gravy and oil draining right off. It had a nice chewy texture and never soaked through.

          No fries at Hot Dog City, but you can have Kettle chips. The Italian beef sandwich is $6.29, Italian sausage sandwich is $6.29, and the Chicago combo of the two is $8.29. I thought about ordering the combo, but I wasn't that hungry. In fact, I saw the sign and just kept walking out to my car since it was only 5pm. But then I figured it might be a bit before I was back here again and I'd be wondering how the Italian beef was. So I went back into the mall. It was tasty enough that I finished the whole thing.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            No fries? Drats...They're droppin the ball on not having fries/garlic fries/cheese fries to go with this coronary sandwich...Oh well I'm gonna try it today anyway. Thanks for the tip!