When I read on Grubstreet that longtime LTHForum contributor "YourPalWill" died last week, I did what any respectful person would do: I went out and ate a really, really big sandwich. You see, Will Philpott was the creator of the Will Special, a gargantuan sandwich from Riviera Italian & American Imported Foods. Will's custom order—hot sopressata, hot cappicola, salami de prosciutto, prosciutto ham, fresh mozzarella, and hot giardiniera on an Italian hoagie roll—caught on like wildfire on LTHForum and beyond.
Will's legacy is alive and well at J.P. Graziano Grocery Co., Inc. Since I first asked Jim Graziano to make me a Will Special two years ago, the sandwich has caught on with a new audience, much to the bemusement of the LTHForum community. The sandwich is popular enough now that not only can Jim make it from memory, but the other guys behind the counter can, too.
The Graziano Will Special ($7.25) scales back the meats and features many of the shop's signature touches. Plenty of hot sopressata, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella are piled into Italian bread from D'Amato's. The sandwich is garnished with Graziano's house slaw (shredded iceberg, dried oregano, red wine vinegar, and olive oil are mixed before being added to the sandwich), house-brand hot giardiniera, and the kicker—fresh basil. (I always order mine with extra giardiniera, which seems fitting for such an excessive sandwich.) While there is still plenty of meat on the sandwich, the fact that it is thinly sliced and applied with restraint ensures that meat isn't the only thing you taste. Will Special purists may scoff at the addition of fresh veggies, but the balance and lightness that they contribute to the sandwich should make a convert out of any naysayer.
While I didn't know Will personally, I think he'd be proud that his sandwich is being ordered by complete strangers around the city; it's a fitting tribute to a person who cared deeply for the local Chicago food scene. It doesn't hurt that the over-the-top flavors work perfectly together, either. We all owe you one, Will.