A Hamburger Today
Go with the Grinders at Eastern Style Pizza
One of my rules for scouting out places is that whatever they stress on the sign is probably the best thing they have. There may be shrimp, gyros, and chicken chow mein on the menu, but if the sign says Giuseppe's Pizzeria Roma, well, you calculate the odds.
So I spent a long time driving past Eastern Style Pizza on a mostly kosher stretch of Touhy in West Rogers Park, because I figured it was a kosher pizza joint. (There actually is one just a few doors down.) Not until I went with my friend Michael Morowitz, who grew up in the area, and his kids one Saturday afternoon did I learn that everything I assumed about it was wrong.
The owner, Frank, is Greek, and the pizza, though New York/East Coast-style and perfectly fine for a quick slice, is not the main attraction.
Instead, it's really a grinder joint, an East Coast style of sub sandwich that you don't see much here. Here at least, it's whatever you want on a long crusty roll—long enough that two could easily share a sandwich—that might be smeared with tomato sauce and topped with onion, green pepper, some seasoning, and mozzarella, and then baked in the oven. Not microwaved, not run through some conveyor belt contraption with a heating element, but baked for a very long ten or fifteen minutes in an actual oven like you have at home.
What comes out has all the simple, warm, and comforting virtues of hot bread and gooey oozing mozzarella. Which is to say, if this doesn't make you happy and feel eight years old again, you're already dead.
I like the meatball version, and it's also good with something like pepperoni or salami. But there's about a zillion choices, from a Philly Cheese Steak grinder to Chicken Parm to a gyros grinder. (No chicken chow mein grinder, though.)
There are mostly two kinds of sandwiches in this world today—the awful chain sandwiches of plastic meats and chemical-tasting bread of which we will not speak further, and artisanal sandwiches made with housemade this and housecured that. Eastern Style Pizza, the grinder place, belongs to a fast-disappearing third category, the original kind of working class sandwich, which was nothing artisanal, nothing you couldn't make yourself, but freshly-made with real food. The kind of sandwich you might well have had on the Jersey Shore—before it became a TV show.