"How do you want it?" came the voice, crackly down the phone line. "Hot and wet," I whispered, "and sweet and juicy for my friend." It's not every day ordering couple of sandwiches makes you feel like you're a phone sex operator, but that's how you do it here in Chicago when you want an Italian beef.
This is absolutely my favourite Chicago food. Seasoned beef that has been "wet-roasted" in a flavoursome, clear beef jus, then sliced wafer-thin and returned to the juice it was roasted in. This is then piled on thick, coarse-crumbed, Italian-style bread. The "sweet" or "hot" in the order comes from your choices of sweet peppers (sauteed capsicum) or hot giardiniera, a spicy mix of pickled vegetables and feisty green chillis. Once constructed, your sandwich can be "dry" (the meat was allowed to drain before being piled on the bread), "wet" (the meat was slapped on with lots of juice), or "dipped"/"juicy" (the entire sandwich was dunked back into the juice). Each beef shack has its own subtle permutations on the lingo, like "soaked" or "double-dipped."
Baltimore has a signature beef sandwich too - the "pit beef" or "pit sandwich." Good enough to make you confess to murder, apparently! (If you have not watched The Wire - SHAME, SHAME! - spoiler alert!!)
Very tasty, although mine did need a lot of help in the form of salt and horseradish - and ordering it was a lot less fun than ordering a beef in Chicago.
For Italian beef in Chicago, you could start by exploring Beef with Hot. I recommend Johnnie's Beef (Arlington Heights/Elmwood Park) and Tore & Luke's (Palatine).
Chaps Pit Beef
5801 Pulaski Hwy