South Side Eats: Tony's Italian Beef
"When was the last time you had a really great sandwich?" is what Tony's Italian Beef on Pulaski in West Lawn asks when you ride by. Well just the other day in fact. Sandwiches make the food world go around. There are countless great ones to be had all over the world, so you're never that far from a good one. Tony's included. Anyplace that's been serving them since 1975 has to be doing something right.
I've been going to Tony's for some time now after being introduced by a friend who made it his usual lunch spot when working on a campaign in the neighborhood. The place is a great example of "all in the family," as those are the only people who worked here when they first got rolling. Today they still offer Grandpa Tony's housemade Italian beef, but there are also lot more options than there were originally. Basically, if you like sandwiches, you'll find one for you.
Starting with their namesake beef isn't a bad way to go. I scored it a 15/20 over on my Italian beef blog, Beef with Hot, where a 16/20 is considered above average. The beef is the strong point in the sandwich. When you get a nice fresh batch, it comes tender and full of flavor. The reason it didn't quite make it to 16 is due to the fact they serve what's probably the most unique giardiniera in the city. I suppose one could also the use the word odd to describe a blend that includes carrots and peppers cut diagonally into the shape and size of old wooden coins, along with garbanzo beans and fully intact sport peppers. Not my favorite blend, but certainly not a bad one.
Besides the beef, Tony's also has all the other Chicago-style stand classics. Combos, breaded steaks, regular steak, grilled chicken, gravy breads, and so on. You want a breakfast sandwich with two eggs, two slices of bacon, two pieces of sausage, and two slices of cheese on French bread? They got you covered.
They even have a mother-in-law turned super sandwich called The Super Dog, which features a hot dog and tamale topped with chili served on French bread with all the usual Chicago dog toppings.
I haven't had the heart to try that one, but I have had their homemade meatball and I can approve of it. Nothing fancy or chef-driven about the sandwich, it's just a good example of an old school favorite.
Those that know me or follow me over at my other blog, S'C'&C, know that I'm a traditionalist when it comes to Chicago-style food. My kids won't be eating their hot dogs with ketchup on them, and it's my belief that cheese has no place on an Italian beef. Good thing they call the sandwich that matches grilled Italian beef, grilled giardiniera, grilled onions, and mozzarella on toasted garlic bread the Corleone.
It's actually a pretty great sandwich and the only one I'll ever order that pairs Italian beef and cheese. It's as if a Philly Cheesesteak met an Italian beef sandwich, and they fell in love and made a baby.