Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: In Search of the Gym Shoe, Chicago's Unsung Sandwich
5542 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60639 (map); 773-622-8240
The Short Order: The best place I've found yet to sample the gym shoe, an original Chicago sandwich creation.
Want Fries with That? Come with each order, but ask for salt.
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce the Gym Shoe, a heretofore unrecognized player in the Chicago sandwich scene. Part Italian beef, part gyro, with slices of corned beef folded in just for the hell of it, it's a mess of a sandwich that can be mystifyingly delicious, if done properly.
I first learned about the sandwich from my wife, who heard it mentioned by the students she taught in the West Side neighborhood of Austin. But when she passed this valuable information on to me, I was initially resistant. I mean, haven't all the regional specialities around Chicago been documented?
Obviously, Googling "gym shoe" didn't help much, but adding "sandwich" and "Chicago" to the query finally did the trick. Sure enough, up popped an entry on Urban Dictionary—not exactly the most reliable source of information out there, but at least it was something. The post claimed that the sandwich was "constructed identically to the ubiquitous Italian beef sandwich, but substitutes tender roast beef for gyro meat." Further research showed that often gyro meat, roast beef, and corned beef were often combined to create a trifecta of beef products.
I was excited. Hey, I love the Italian beef, and I'm all for strange sandwich mutations featuring crisped up gyro meat. I set off for the West Side with a couple of spots in mind.
Though I found a few mentions online, I never actually found a picture of the sandwich. So I was genuinely surprised when I opened up the bag from Sony's Sub on Chicago Ave to find what looked like a regular sub sandwich. Sure, the extra salty slices of gyro meat and corned beef made for an aggressive and truly flavorful creation, but this seemed less like a dramatic new dish and more like just a cleverly named sandwich.
Strangely, the menu on the wall at Sony's calls it a "Jim Shoe," a mistake I'm chalking up to a translation issue with the owners.
But from the moment I took a look at the gym shoe from Sun Submarine, I knew I was on to something special. The meat was thicker and the bread was sturdier, leading to a truly gut-busting experience. More importantly, both giardiniera and tzatziki were included, so each bite had that great push and pull of intense spice and cooling sauce. This looked and tasted like the true love child of an Italian beef and a gyro.
So, there it is. Not exactly a game changer, but as an experience, the gym shoe is genuine fun and worth tracking down. Of course, if you know of other versions around town, please let me know. I need to have another one of these pronto.
5124 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60651 (map)
5542 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60639 (map)