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Jan 10, 2014 12:20 AM

Chicago Beef Sandwiches and Giardiniera in Boston?

I have just been reading a long Serious Eats piece on Chicago Beef sandwiches, of which i knew nothing. They sound quite decadent (thinly sliced roast beef dipped in house gravy, served on a roll and topped w/ crunchy spicy vinegary giardiniera.) It's prob safe to say that this is one of those regional specialties that you don't find outside the region, but I thought i'd check here- is that true? I mean, we have as big an Italian population as Chicago, don't we? But maybe that has nothing to do with it.......

Has anyone had something like a Chicago Beef in Boston (or New Haven or Providence or NYC) that was really well done? And the topping, is it called Giardiniera in Boston? Is there a retail brand that you like alot? Thx much for the education.



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  1. I haven't been to it yet, but am told a place called Windy City Eats in Weymouth has a Chicago beef sandwich, and hot dog as well, and trends favorably here on Chowhounds

    1. Yes, Spalla's Chicago Italian Beef in Natick is THE place to go. They're from Chicago, they import the rolls from there, and they know what's up.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Prav

        As a ChicagoLand native, I also give Spalla's a big endorsement. Their dogs (which are my usual lunch there) are also excellent.

        1. re: NE_Wombat

          Reading about Italian beef here made me go to Spalla's today. Today was even better than I remember it being: a touch more salt, a little more pepper and oregano, also the giardiniera was spicier than in the past (I used to ask for one or two sport peppers). Perfect amount of jus, just a trace left after soaking it up with the bread as I went. Good stuff, good folks.

      2. LongBoards cafe in Salem has excellent Giardiniera, but no Chicago beef on the menu.

        1. Hi OpinionatedChef- with all your dining experience, I'm surprised you hadn't heard of "The Beef" before!

          I lived in Chicago for 4 years, and returned to Boston, and thanks to cravings, I have thoroughly searched for Italian Beef in this area. The places already mentioned below are the only ones with worthy examples. Both places are quite good, and Spalla's being closer than Windy City Eats, I usually end up there. Pro-tip: when you order an Italian Beef (or for that matter, Italian Sausage or Beef and Sausage Combo), you are expected/encouraged to modify your order with a couple of variables:

          1. How wet do you want it? The options range from Dry, where the cook will pick the beef up out of the jus with tongs, and shake it off, before placing it in the bread, to Regular, no shake, to Wet or Dipped, where they will slop the juicy meat on the bread and then actually dip the ends or sometimes the whole sandwich in the jus. Guess which one tastes the best :-).

          2. Do you want it cheesy or no? Different places offer different cheese, tough to guess which one it's gonna be, but I always go cheesy. The warm beef melts the shredded cheese nicely.

          3. Hot, Sweet, or Hot and Sweet? Hot Giardiniera, Roasted Sweet Green Peppers, or both.

          That said, my order never changes- Beef, wet, cheesy, hot. Done.

          Enjoy :-)

          22 Replies
          1. re: phipsi102

            I'm sure the traditionalists will gasp, but I also sometimes like to get the beef combo sandwich which is typcially the regular beef plus spicy sausages in the same sandwich. Not for the faint of heart or those watching their heart. LOL.

            1. re: phipsi102

              hi phipsi, appreciate the larnin'! more questions: is it just a jus, or is it sometimes a real gravy? (or maybe they just call jus as gravy in Chicago...?

              these "Chicago imported rolls" at Spalla - the Serious Eats guy (boy did he take it for the team with this report; let's hope his arteries recover soon) says they're usually awful, even in Chic.., and the good ones have crunch/fresh crust...What are they like at Spalla? and does Spalla cook their own meat?

              Do you keep a jar of Giardiniera at home, and do you have a fav brand that you've found here? How about Chicago Johnny's that you can get through Amazon?

              Thx all of you for this info. Funny, there are certain cities that have populated alot of Boston, but in my many yrs here, I've hardly met a soul from Chicago. We'll have to do something about that!

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Combo is serious. Not sure why he wants crunch in the roll. The real test of the roll is whether it can survive being completely submerged in jus.

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  Having recently returned to the Boston area from Chicago, I was also looking for a source for giardiniera (there is no reason to limit yourself by only adding it to Italian Beef). I recently settled on mail order from "That Pickle Guy" -- it is fantastic, and his shipping is very reasonable.

                  1. re: Gremolata

                    I don't see giard around many places here beyond the occasional gourmet grocer/specialty food stores. Best bet is to order it online.

                    Windy City Eats uses Vienna giard and mostly all Vienna products (and Boar's Head). The dog is quite good, and the polish not bad either, but the beef is dunked in dishwater and is quite a sad sandwich.

                    1. re: Nab

                      Thanks for the photos. The dog looks pretty spot on, but between your review and photo, I might agree the beef seems skippable.


                      1. re: Nab

                        I've heard similar complaints about the beef but IMO I've never noticed much difference between the WCE one and the sorts that I'd get at random shops in chicago.

                        Typically people will compare it unfavorably to good spots there but that's not what I'm talking about.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          Oh sure. Like NYC pizza. Most of the beefs in Chicago are unsuitable for consumption. Same could be said for clam chowder here. Nothing to get excited about a gluey white bowl of chowdah in Des Moines, just because it's clam chowder. But the WCE dog is a quality dog worth seeking out, comparable to tier 2 dog in Chicago like, say, Portillo's.

                          1. re: Nab

                            I just think it's not clear when you see people being hyperbolic and saying something like "It's not nearly as good as anything you can get in Chicago!" (or NYC) when what really they mean is "It's not nearly as good as the good places in Chicago!" (or NYC).

                            The former implies something truly wretched typically, for reasons you point out.

                        2. re: Nab

                          If your ever in the Salem are the Giardinara at Longboards is homemade and really good, I get it as an app with pita chips. They also serve it on their italian sub which is quite good.

                        3. re: Gremolata

                          I've been eating jarred Giardiniere here in Boston since I was a kid. Pickled cauli, carrots, peppers, etc. Is it the same thing? Or is Chicago Giard something different?

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I would be surprised if any local grocery store did not carry giardiniera or "Italian mix", likely Pastene or a similar brand, in the style described by trufflehound. But that's not exactly the same thing. Not an expert, but I've had a few jars of Chicago giardiniera as gifts, and the hot can be sometimes as much as 50% hot peppers, plus the other veg is chopped up more, and there's oil involved. But the stuff available locally is in the same family, and I've used it to approximate Chicago style by just chopping it a bit in food processor, adding a bunch of sliced canned serranos and playing with the seasonings and adding olive oil and sometimes olives.

                              Also, didn't Strip T's have giardiniera on the menu at one point?
                              OChef, I'd say ultimately you're right that our large Italian population doesn't really mean anything in this case. It seems like it's a regional dish, alas, much like roast pork, broccoli rabe, provolone.

                      2. re: phipsi102

                        I lived in Chicago for a few years and never appreciated the Italian Beef till I left. I always got mine dipped, cheesy, and sweet. Nothing wrong with going for hot, but there is something wrong if you don't get it dipped or cheesy. I haven't tried Windy City Eats yet, but it's on the top of places I'm meaning to go. I also hear they make a good traditional Vienna Beef Chicago-style hotdog.


                        1. re: hungrytommy

                          There is also a Windy City in Norwell on Rt. 53. I've heard it was a family split that moved one out from the Weymouth. I'm really not sure and really don't care. It's ok but not my dog of choice. A grilled dog at the beach or a Speed's is more my style.

                        2. re: phipsi102

                          Second spalla & windy city eats. Although I get my beef dipped, hot.

                          Grady from WCE is super nice and has a hell of a memory. I can stop in over a year after my previous visit and he remembers details of our previous conversation.

                          1. re: phipsi102

                            Cheese on an Italian Beef? As a veggie/seafood head, I'm not the authority, but I lived within spitting distance of Al's #1 on Taylor for 3 years and I can't remember seeing cheese as an option or, if it was, no one ordering it.

                            Back then (mid-late 90's) you may have seen me leaning on the counter at Al's, sleeves rolled up, noshing a big ol' wet Italian Beef.

                            Never seen anything like that in these parts, GBA or PVD. I'd take that over a once-a-year burger any day.

                              1. re: Infomaniac

                                The stance is key, can't eat one without it.

                                1. re: Infomaniac

                                  Ladies have a hard time with "the stance" but I do in fact see guys lining the counters every time I'm at Al's.

                                  Which is also why I don't get mine dipped (heresy!) because its too messy to eat that way for me at a table. I end up needing a fork.

                                  An, OP-chef, you can see in the video that it's not "gravy" (not sure why its called that by SE) its a watery au jus.

                              2. I like the giardiniera from P.O.E. at Russo's. Very fresh and delicious, and reasonably priced.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: bear

                                  The P.O.E is delicious, but not Chicago style, I guess. No olive oil.