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Standing Room Only: The Return of Chickie's Italian Beef

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Chickie's

2839 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago IL‎ 60623 (map); 773-277-2333
The Short Order: Tender Italian beef with an extra beefy gravy.
Want Fries with That? The thick-cut fries are stunning, though you may want to order them well done.
Seats? None inside, though a few picnic tables are available outside.

Chickie's broke my heart. Back in 2009, I featured the stand as my second ever Standing Room Only post, declaring it one of the "best examples of an Italian beef in Chicago." I believed it, constantly recommending to friends that a trip down to Little Village was worth it, even though the stand was slightly out of the way. I also fought hard to include it in our tour to find the Best Italian Beef Sandwich in Chicago. But though only a year had passed since my last visit, something had gone terribly, horribly wrong. The once proud beef was instead a sad, lifeless imitation of the real thing, featuring dry and mushy meat, almost no gravy, and a stale bun. Of the eleven beefs we sampled that day, it came in dead last.

I wasn't too surprised when it closed last year, as the stand's standards had obviously slipped. (I should note that a second location opened in University Village, but I haven't been.) I thought that was the end of Chickie's story, at least for the original location, until I came across a post on LTHForum a few months ago claiming that the stand had reopened. Fearing that it would once again disappoint, thereby completely erasing any memory of the once great beef, I waited until this week to make my return.

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I'm proud to report that Chickie's is back. With new owners and a freshly rehabbed location (including an impressive mural on the side of the building) this stand is once again kicking out a destination worthy Italian beef and some fantastic fresh-cut fries.

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The Italian beef ($6.25 with fries) is still the star of the show. Though thickly sliced, the meat is impressively tender, never veering into chewy territory. It's a solid base, but it's the gravy that sets this over the top. Featuring a healthy dose of black pepper, the extra beefy gravy coats the meat and saturates the bread, so that each bite is savory and satisfying.

Sadly, I was disappointed to see that the distinctive giardiniera had been replaced, but the pickled condiment was at least serviceable. And with the other components more than carrying the load, it didn't detract from the whole.

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I vaguely remember Chickie's fresh-cut fries being good, but these were a genuine surprise. Though inconsistently fried—some were soft while others were very crispy—each had a fantastic potato profile. Even the softer ones were fully cooked and pillowy on the inside, and I know that some people prefer fries that way. I actually liked the mix of textures, but if you're a crispy fry enthusiast, you might want to ask for these well done.

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Chickie's uses a skinless Vienna Beef hot dog, preventing the minimalist-style hot dog ($3.69 with fries) from reaching the same heights as the beef. But it's well done for what it is.

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It's always a pleasure to see a stand you love return from the dead, but it's especially fulfilling to see the new owners take such care with the food. I should have known from that mural that something good was in store, and I'm pleased to report that Chickie's is once again worth the trek.

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