Where’s Da Beef?

Da Beef

So over the past several issues I’ve offered you my take on popular quick service burgers – MacDonald’s was an easy choice. Sometime later we took it up a step to more serious burger restaurants and Scratch Kitchen was also an easy winner. So what’s on the next step, why Italian beef of course as we seem to be in sort of a beef sandwich vortex, i.e. lucky to be surrounded by a number of options. But you say why bother cause “Johnnie’s is right there on North Ave. and you know it’s the best and everyone thinks so. Well I say yes you’re right that everyone thinks so but – me…not so much. Please follow along.

Johnnie’s was opened in 1961 and has become a legend with its’ long lines and somewhat mystical ownership. Try as I might I could not find any background on who started the store or who owns it today but I will suggest that I’ve heard it’s been sold at least twice, gentle readers maybe you can offer some history.

I have lived in the area for 30 years and of course went to Johnnie’s on people’s recommendation’s and I recall the very heavy set gentleman who reminded me of the “Jabba the Hut” caricature from the first Star Wars bar scene, shouting out orders in that “over by der” style many of us hear in Elmwood and Melrose Park.

Johnnies-3So let’s get to it. I always thought the sandwiches were good but maybe not my thing as I find sitting in the sun at a concrete table that could keep your sandwich warm lacked a certain ambiance.

The sandwich we got was good but not that good possibly as a result of the beef having just been added to the juice so it didn’t get a chance to soak, but that’s not my problem – you have to serve a consistent product.

The sandwich was the smallest as well at least expensive ($4.54) and not well made, (see photo). It had very good beef flavor but frankly not that distinctive, “satisfying” was a mutual comment from the panel. The green peppers were a tasty add but the hot giardinera of carrots, sport peppers and cauliflower was too hot for me and covered the entire beef flavor. There was plenty of juice to soak into the Gonella bread without being sloppy. Johnnie’s Italian ice is the perfect sweet creaminess against the fatty richness and mild heat of the beef. Johnnie’s 7500 W. North Ave. Elmwood Park

It was a casual mention 15 years ago of Freddy’s Pizza in a newspaper column not related to food but to a meeting the writer had scheduled with a local politico, I don’t recall either of their names.

Going for my first lunch visit I discovered a one off gem of a place in what is now a fairly Hispanic section of Cicero. An Italian deli and market is the best way to describe it but not a restaurant as they had to add enclosed seating outside the building to accommodate we who wanted to eat there.

Freddys-2Family owned with a long time serving staff, they appear to make most everything to eat that you can purchase including the gelato, they have four machines. Full disclosure, one of my BFF’s is related to the owners, a fact I only discovered in the last ten years. If you want a real treat stop in for lunch and be hungry because your eyes will be bigger than your stomach.

So with all of that said, how’s the beef sandwich? Well it was the biggest and only $5.99, the panel agreed that it was cooked perfectly, tender with decent flavor, good Turano bread and mild but tasty giardinera, homemade each day with olives, carrots, sport peppers and celery, it adds just the right note of crunch,… but overall it was just pretty good and surprising so as every other food item they serve is so tasty and out of this world with flavor.  Freddy’s Pizza 1600 S 61st Ave, Cicero, IL

When my tasting notes begin with “Oh my!” I know I’m on to something and when the notes continue with a panel member stating, “Everything about the sandwich is tastier” I know we have a winner and Buona was it.

The beef, a big serving, ($5.95) had a good balance of seasonings – oregano, garlic, salt – maybe a tad too much salt, and was both shredded and soft. “Our beef is a sirloin cut and goes through a three day cooking, cooling and cutting process” according to John Gill, Buona’s Director of Marketing. “The meat is roasted in its own natural juices with no additional stock added, something that separates us from other companies.”

buona-beefThe bread is a French bread loaf from Turano that is in fact toasted. The roll had great “tooth” and its taste was an intrinsic part of the flavor profile of the sandwich.  The giardinera of sport peppers, carrots and celery had great flavor and was not silly spicy.

A remark from a related published article states, “…the spices that you use differentiate your Italian beef from another place. It all comes down to the customer’s preference.”

Our preference was that this was a better made and tastier sandwich than the other two and was clearly the best of the day. Buona is also family owned and has multiple locations around the area, with two nearby. Buona 6745 Roosevelt Road Berwyn, IL.

Hope I saw you at the Famous Grill Fest on June 25th!

That’s my whine…and I could be wrong

Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, drinks and matches wine and food at www.woodythewineguy.com

This article is also published in the July – August edition of the Forest Park Post