Sometimes I forget that vegetables exist when I visit Chicago. It’s home to a lot of foods that I really love, but they share a general trait of being absolutely terrible for you. Chicago hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches are the two gastronomical pillars for me. I think deep dish pizza is fine but it’s a commitment that I’m generally not willing to undertake on a short trip. The post pizza coma really eats into your evening.
I almost always visit a chain called Portillo’s when I’m in town. They sell both Chicago dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches. However, I’ve always had a bias that if I wanted a great Italian Beef that I should go to Al’s Beef right around the corner. It’s probably been about 6 years since I last visited, and during that stretch the old Al’s Beef location I was familiar with disappeared and they moved into a new spot a block or two away. The new location is bigger, cleaner, and had some additional menu items that appealed to my interests.
Beefy Fries were my target for this visit. It’s basically an Italian Beef sandwich served on a bed of fries instead of bread. Italian Beef is a thin cut of roast beef cooked in a peppery broth/jus/gravy and is generally served with a spicy italian vegetable condiment called giardiniera. Everyone has a preference on the amount of broth/jus/gravy to serve on the sandwich, but it ranges from dry to drowned. They will literally dip the whole sandwich in the vat of cooking liquid if that’s what you want. My obvious concern with Beefy Fries was that they’d immediately get soggy and disgusting. I was correct on those assumptions.
The fries were soggy. Unapologetically soggy. However, they were delicious and a perfect start to my culinary escapades on this trip. I wish I had brought a scale in addition to my calipers because this was a hefty portion of food. The beef was tender and peppery, and the giardiniera added texture and depth. It reminded me a bit of the deep heat of a sambal oelek. Spicy but also garlic forward. There was a cheese sauce drizzled around the top as well that helped bind everything together. Since the fries were soggy and the beef was beefy, this actually reminded me quite a bit of a Sunday roast in fast food form. I ate the whole thing and then took a long walk to justify some of the calories.
Final thoughts – these were awesome. Part of me enjoyed it more than just a regular Italian Beef sandwich. The sandwiches are a mess to eat and end up all over your hands (sometimes all the way down to your elbows), but the fries were cleanly eaten with a fork. I thought the price point was a bit high. At $13.99 you could get a sandwich and an order of fries. It made me wonder if they were priced high as a deterrent, but maybe you get a larger portion of beef? Either way, they were great, and I’m glad that I ventured out from my regular order. I might not get them again but they’re a worthy entry to the blog.