Roma's Italian Beef & Sausage
4237 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago IL 60641 (map); 773-725-5715
The Short Order: Perfectly executed Italian beef and Italian sausage combo.
Want Fries with That? Fries are standard.
Want Ketchup? Maybe for the bland fries.
Roma's Italian Beef & Sausage is, shall we say, a tad unassuming. Without the pomp of Susie's Drive Thru or the sass of Al's Italian Beef, it's easy to quietly drive by this stand along Cicero Avenue on the northwest side of Chicago and not think too much about it.
Italian beef and hot dogs stands are a dime a dozen in this city and initially Roma's doesn't seem like its doing much to try and differentiate it from the rest.
But few are this good. It's a no-nonsense kind of place that quietly puts out one of my favorite Italian beefs in the city by not taking any short cuts. You'll be glad you stopped. The room has one counter with a few swirling stools. There are no tables, unless you count the one outside by the parking lot. It was much too cold when I went. The menu is surprisingly big, but I was there for the basics.
Their Italian beef doesn't have the hint of nutmeg like Al's or the peppery note of Chickie's, but it is nearly flawless. The big hunk of meat is roasted in house then shaved thinly. It's improbably tender. Make sure to get the sandwich with hot giardiniera, which is hot and forceful, and perfect for cutting through all that meat.
The Italian sausage, on the other hand, is just fine. It's well-seasoned, but seemed a little haggard, especially considering some of the masterful examples I've had at Hot Doug's.
But if you combine the Italian sausage with their Italian beef something strange happens. You know, because a regular Italian beef didn't have enough meat as it was. This sandwich is an unlikely marriage of Italian beef and Italian sausage that really, really shouldn't work. But one bite of the luscious tender beef and the spicy sausage is enough to convince anyone. Fellow Chicago Serious Eater Michael Nagrant wrote lovingly about this combo at Johnnie's. I agree. Roma's does a fine example of this odd, odd sandwich.
With the combo available, it's hard to really recommend anything else. The hot dog is a faithful Vienna Beef natural casing. The fries are pretty good, but not extraordinary.
About the only thing I tried that wasn't good were the Italian ices. Unlike Mario's Italian Lemonade, these are sickeningly sweet. Oh well, can't do everything right, I suppose.
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