Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Italian Beef Sandwich

I love regional sammiches and if I know an area has a signature one, I generally do whatever is necessary to sample it when I visit.  I consumed over 400 cheesesteaks during my two years in Philly, dream about the debris po boy from Mothers on a regular basis, and will write a 1,000 word missive about the Jersey sloppy joe some point soon.  They’re not all winners, though. I wouldn’t recommend you visit Pittsburgh for the soggy french fries and deli meat on stale bread sandwich at Primanti Bros.  Sandwiches You Will Love lost all credibility for me with that one.

On Kristi and my visit to Chicago, I wanted to get the famous Italian beef sandwich.  But, as documented previously, it was a pretty packed couple days and we covered two of the most popular regional specialties in hot dogs and deep dish.  The sandwich had to be passed on for, you know, normal restaurant meals and stuff.  It was a vacation away from Janet for cripes sake.

I don't know if that's all me or my raincoat was full of air, but I don't think I want to know. Not sure if I would tell you either

I don’t know if that’s all me or if my raincoat was full of air, but I don’t think I want to know.  Not sure if I would tell you either

Blah blah blah, I didn’t get the sandwich.  Sounded friggin’ awesome though, sliced roast beef with Italian seasonings, simmered in the cooking juices and loaded onto a sandwich.  Then, the whole sandwich is dipped back into those juices if you so chose.  Yeah, sounded too awesome to not make that for myself.

It all started with a few blade steaks.

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn't bolted down has the potential to be purchased

My Friday afternoon trips to the Back Bay Shaws get a little crazy.  Anything that isn’t bolted down and I haven’t cooked before has the potential to be purchased

As alluded to in the caption, I have thoroughly enjoyed hitting up the supermarket by my office on Fridays for random cuts of beef and pork and usually some seafood as well.  These blade steaks looked good and I’d never cooked them before, so I was completely unaware that they can’t be grilled like a regular steak.  Explains why they were pretty inexpensive and had a visible ribbon of gristle running down the middle.

Since they couldn’t be grilled, what else could I do but take a crack at the Italian Beef Sandwich.  I seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and put them in a preheated ‘Lil Blue with some olive oil to brown on the stovetop.

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

The gristle is pretty visible here.  It looked like a slice of the hanger meat, which is probably what I would discover blade steak is if I did even 5 seconds of research.  Meh

After the meat was fully browned, I removed it from the pot and threw in a mix of celery, carrots, and garlic that I had run through the food processor.  After that cooked for a couple of minutes I added in a sliced yellow onion.


I gave myself a lot of crap for how odd it was to send most of the mirepoix through the food processor and leave the onions whole.  But I wanted them to have a visible presence in the final sammich, and I now have to live with that visually disjointed decision

I cooked the onions until they had a little color on the edges but were otherwise translucent, about 10 minutes.  At which point I deglazed with a cup of red wine, added some dried basil & oregano, and turned the heat up a bit to reduce.


I will freely admit that this looks like a complete mess.  Usually food shots that look this crappy involve large amounts of grim looking organ meat, but this was just all over the place

After the wine had reduced by about a quarter, I stirred in a few chopped tomatoes, a cup of beef broth and a couple bay leaves.

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

Smelled like an awesome beef stew, but probably looks like about 30 other previous posts on this blog.  Braising is the tool of the weak and I braise a lot of stuff

I brought the liquid to a boil then lowered to a simmer for ten minutes to reduce it a bit and let the flavors come together.  Once it looked right (I have no effing idea what that means but its true), I added the blade steaks back in and made sure they were well covered in the liquid and onions.  Lid went on, heat was reduced to low, and left it to cook for 80ish minutes.  At which point I had this.

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes in a liquid and comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

Not sure what magic happens once the lid goes on, but it seems like stuff goes into a liquid and it all comes out a thick sauce.  This bears almost no resemblance to what it was an hour and a half earlier

I fished the blade steaks out with some tongs and gave them a good shake to get the extra sauce and onions off of them before transferring to a cutting board.

For a pound and a half of meat it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn't like it at this point to secure a larger portion of the meal

For a pound and a half of meat, it contracted a ton and looked like barely enough to fill a couple sandwiches.  I think I started telling Kristi she wouldn’t like it at this point, mostly to secure a larger portion of the meal

I sliced each steak into medium thickness slices since I wanted them to retain some texture then added them back into the cooking liquid.  ‘Lil Blue went back over low heat to simmer for another thirty minutes.

As the simmering time for the braise neared its end, I sliced and lightly toasted a crusty baguette.  A couple big spoonfuls of the braise and lot of the liquid went into the baguette along with a sprinkling of cheese and, on my half, a handful of sliced sweet peppers.

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

Not enough liquid to do the full dip of the sammy, but I made sure it was soaked and nearly impossible to eat

With a couple more spoonfuls of cooking liquid and a knife to hold everything in place I gave the sandwich the old close and squeeze.  First I cut Kristi off her half, and then dug in.

This was a cross between the roast pork sandwich at Johns in Philly and some sort of Italian flavored pot roast.  Well, I guess that’s what it was actually.  The meat was tender but not quite to the point that it was like a shredded beef or fall-apart pot roast; still had some texture.  The liquid gave it a french dip like flavor but with the Italian seasonings and tomatoes clearly in there as well.  It was definitely a little salty from the salt on the meat and the reduced broth, but in an enjoyable way.  The parmesan cheese gave some nice contrast sharpness and the pickled peppers added some crunch and contrasting vinegar flavors.  I raced through my half to make sure there was enough for another half.

I left some for Kristi's second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

I left some for Kristi’s second half as well.  I am a jerk and all but I save some sammich for the ladies

Man of the match is probably the crusty Iggys bread since it was just crusty enough to hold it’s crunch/crust while also being completely soggy and soaked with sauce.  This was a solid sandwich.

I was going to make these again for the Super Bowl but couldn’t find the right sized bread.  Probably for the best, we always have way too much food.

Snowstorm this weekend!  Gonna make some sh*t.

Pete’s Travels: 48 Hours in Chicago

Don’t get me wrong, Chi-town got it going on – Will Smith

I like starting off posts with awful music quotes that carbon date me.  I apparently like starting out my blog with them too.  Also, for a three week period in college I thought Miami by Will Smith was the best song ever, then I went back to noodle dancing to Phish bootlegs with the rest of Bates College.

Last week I was in Chicago for business and, with a little assist from Mommy Ryan, Kristi joined me sans Janet for the weekend.  So, I wasn’t really in Chicago for 48 hours, but Kristi was, and that timeframe was when I got the chance to do some food exploring after a couple days of work-filled lunches and dinners.  In preparation for our trip we collected numerous recommendations from friends and coworkers and they didn’t disappoint.

Shortly after Kristi got to town on Friday night we headed to the Chicago Chop House, a famous steakhouse located in a three story brownstone.

Not my picture, but had to find a shot of this awesome sign.  We knew we were in for some Olympic-level eating so we walked to and from the restaurant despite the wind and rain

The Chop House is a pretty traditional old-school steak house, but the execution was freaking awesome.  The first floor feels history packed; the type of place that makes it easy to picture the exact same scene 40 years ago, just with a lot more smoke and a lot less women.

Once we were seated, the true steak house experience began with lots of talk about cuts of meat and multiple waiters ensuring we were stuffed on red meat and red wine.  I went with the ribeye, ‘course.

Not my picture again.  I generally hate taking pictures of my food in restaurants since I see so many other people doing it and it annoys me.  Had to break that policy by Saturday when I recognized I had no post for this week otherwise

The salads, steaks, onion rings, and scalloped potatoes side dish were all excellent and borderline painful to stuff into my body.  I wish I could have stopped before I ended up so stuffed, but it was all too good and I have no semblance of will power anymore.  A good start to our weekend of eating made slightly more tolerable by our mile+ waddle back to the W after dinner.

Saturday morning we woke up and wandered around the waterfront area by Buckingham Fountain before I got antsy.  I’d received a tip on a place I hadn’t heard of before, and we needed to get there nice and early with plenty of time before the Cubs day game we had tickets to.  When we arrived at Hot Doug’s at 10:55 AM and saw the line, we realized my antsy-ness was merited.

That line doesn’t move like a fast food line.  There are 10-12 tables inside and almost everyone in that line will be eating at one of those tables.  Considering it wasn’t even noon when I took this picture, I’m guessing it gets much crazier

The atmosphere in that line is one of anxious anticipation.  Lots of first timers looking at the menu on their phones, nervous discussions of “how many you gonna get?”, and plenty of questioning as to how long the line is inside once we get to the door.

The cold, windy weather was harsh, but our experience was made exponentially more entertaining by what appeared to be a first date going on right in front of us.  A couple that seemed to have met on a gluten-free message board of some sort.  My favorite moments were when he ran down his fantasy football team names from the the past five seasons (they included a Simpsons reference and a Tarantino reference, shocker), and when Kristi pointed out that he was wearing those black leather velcro sneakers that are usually reserved for obese, sleeping security guards.  Let’s move on.

After about 45 minutes, we were in the door.  The wait felt completely worth it when we started seeing the food coming out.  Plus, while the standard Chicago hot dogs and brats are available, it’s the specials menu that has surely made even the skinniest man weep before.

I mean, good god.  These aren’t hot dogs, these are glorious meals in tube form on a bun

When you wait in a line that long, and you are faced with a menu filled with extensive incredible options, you need to put logic aside when ordering.  Which is how we (I) ended up with the duck & foie gras sausage (second one down on right on the specials list), the wild boar sausage (bottom left), the “Game of the Week” antelope sausage with navegador cheese & bacon garlic mayo, and duck fat fries.  Plus a bratwurst with caramelized onions.  You know, for the ladies.  Oh, and a t-shirt.

Clockwise from the top: duck fat fries, bratwurst, duck & foie gras (with slabs of foie gras mousse), antelope, and wild boar.  I have zero regrets about my order.  In fact, I’d recommend getting a minimum of three to anyone who goes there

I think the highest compliment I can give this food is that all of the items on this tray were completely different than every other item and they were all delicious.  Not an easy thing to do when you’re working within the general framework of “sausage”.

I dove into the duck/foie sausage first and it was quite a moment for me.  As I took my second bite Kristi asked if I shouldn’t mix in bites of the others to make sure I wouldn’t get too full.  Although a reasonable question, I think I just grunted at her while I chewed.  Without tasting the others I knew I would rather finish this than risk not finishing it.  It was absurdly rich with creamy textures and fatty meats, but the flavor was the stuff of my poultry liver dreams.  I didn’t think anything could match it, but the other two specialty sausages came close with their unique combinations of flavors.  Loved the crunchy onion/brie texture combo on the wild boar and the sharp cheese plus the sweet garlic sauce on the antelope was excellent.  The duck fat fries were great, though they never live up to what I hope for when I hear those words together.  Excellent meal, and yes I ate all three of my sausages and would do it again in a second despite the ensuing pain.

From Hot Doug’s we headed straight to Wrigley via a well timed (or so we thought) bus.  Here’s something they don’t tell you when you visit a Central Time city; they play their games at 1:00 EST, not 1:00 CST.  Oh well, we were a little late, but Wrigley was still worth the experience.

Beautiful day, but old stadiums hold their cold extremely well.  Thanks for the help on the tickets Sugs, was a great way to spend a Saturday

After the game wrapped up, we stopped in for a beer and a pretzel at the Berghoff (just because it’s a landmark) then took a much needed nap from all the previously mentioned beer and food.

For dinner we planned on a “grub crawl”, one of Kristi and my favorite things to do when on vacation since it lets us try a bunch of different restaurants and dishes.  The recommendations from multiple friends pointed us to Randolph Street where our first stop was GEB (Graham Elliot Bistro) for a cocktail and an app.  Kristi was a little meh on the corn chowder, but I was pretty in to my venison tartare.

Game meat tartare and a well made old fashioned is the fastest way to my heart.  Graham Elliott, we are kindred spirits, but if anyone ever tells me I look like you I might finally be motivated to get back to my wedding weight

The sauces had lots of flavor but they didn’t overwhelm the enjoyably stong raw venison.  Those little concord grapes got the Man of the Match award for this dish, though, since every bite they showed up in was better than the other bites.  Dece old fashioned too.

Although I was mildly annoyed with the bartender due to his on-the-job persona of Mega Hipster, he liked our grub crawl plan and gave some solid recommendations.  Based on his feedback we headed across the street to Maude’s to battle for a spot at the bar.  The smell of the new-age french food coming out of the kitchen was all we needed to know we should stick around.  When we got our seats a few minutes later and opened the menu, we knew the grub crawl was going to be permanently stalled.

As a shout out to Pop Ryan and to learn a bit about what I am obligated to make for a holiday dinner this year, I got the cassoulet.

I’m 50/50 on the fresh off the range pan as a serving dish.  Fully in favor of the white hot ramekin, but pans rarely sit level on a flat surface and this one was like a wheel of fortune with a scalding hot handle coming around every 45-50 seconds

I feel like I am delving too far into the awful internet food critic zone, especially with my poor selection of synonyms for awesome, but this was an excellent meal.  Loved the tender duck and the chunks of carrot, plus every bite had the flavor of every element.  The side of mashed potatoes in dark chicken broth, a recommendation from the GEB bartender, were better than any item going by the name “mashed potatoes” has the right to be.  Great spot.

Stuffed and exhausted from our truncated grub crawl, we willed ourselves to Kingston Mines for a few hours of live music before calling it a night.  The next morning, we boarded an architecture boat tour of the city at 10 AM (way better than it sounds) and exited the boat finally hungry again.  To fulfill a food curiosity for both of us since we saw a mouth watering food show a few years back, Kristi and I headed straight to Ginos East, one of the most famous deep dish pizza places in the city.

Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes before it opened, so we ducked into Portillo’s hot dogs so Kristi could use the bathroom and I could sneak in a quick traditional Chicago dog.

I last had a Chicago-style dog in 2000 on a road trip with my idiot (super)friends.  Forgot about the pickle spear on top and was excited to to see it

With so much of the dog covered with a pickle, I completely missed all the other toppings hiding underneath it before I took my typically enormous first bite.

Look, I don’t want to ruin an extremely appetizing food picture, but why does it look like I have a sixth deformed finger perpendicularly lying across the others?  I am gross

Those little pickled peppers packed a punch.  That’s right folks, Peter’s Purchased Pickled Peppers Packed a Punch!  Odds are you just gave up on this post.

With the dog finished in 4 combined bites from Kristi and I, we headed over to Gino’s East a few minutes before noon to make sure we got a decent football viewing spot while we waited for our pizza.  Ginos is pretty crazy due to their open invitation for their guests to graffiti any and everywhere.

I thought the place was well lit when I took this, but I might have been delirious from hunger and waiting for our pizza.  Didn’t feel dirty despite the association with places that look like this

We went with a meat-heavy half of a medium deep dish and a cheese half since Kristi was nearing a meat overdose at this point.  While I wish that we had just gotten the meat slab, I wasn’t disappointed when this hit the table after the expected 45 minute wait.

It was 12:55 in a well lit area of a reasonably well lit bar.  No idea what happened here with the red light district vibe, but I know that all of my pictures of this ‘za are worthless

I wouldn’t say we were disappointed by the pizza, but when you see it on the TV the ingredients and creation of the pizza are what make the knees shake.  It was our first time tasting traditional deep dish in Chicago, and while we both agreed that it was delicious, the meat and cheese was a little much.  Glad we did it, but I’ll happily choose a bubbly, crispy thin crust over Chicago deep dish anytime.

And with a stop at our friend’s apartment for a few hours of Sunday football on our way out of town, our weekend was over.  Thanks to Annie, Mark, Joel, and Chucky for the recommendations, thanks for the Sunday hopsitality McQueens and thanks to Granna for taking care of Janet.  Amazing time, we can’t wait to do it again.