For awhile now, I've been on the lookout for new versions of the Italian beef. Not that the dipped specialty needs a complete reboot—I certainly disagree with Chicago Magazine's stance—but I do believe that the real classics can handle some tinkering now and then, so long as they maintain their identity. I mean, don't you want to see what some local chefs could do with the sandwich? So when I saw the Tony Beef ($11) at Bar Toma, Tony Mantuano's pizza and wine bar off Michigan Avenue, I got excited.
Using "shaved top sirloin" and "house made giardiniera," the sandwich certainly is more of a looker than some Italian beefs I've encountered, and there's no doubt that this is a very decent sandwich. But it does come awfully close to crossing that line between Italian beef and French dip. I like my beefs dipped, a process where the whole sandwich gets a brief dunk in a vat of gravy. Now, I realize this method is far too messy for Bar Toma, where patrons are seated. Still, I'm also not sure how I feel about the toasted bread, which certainly adds a textural component to each bite, but also never soaks in much of the gravy. The sandwich never felt as beefy as it should have, though I should note that the giardiniera is quite good. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a French dip, but it's not an Italian beef. I'm still hopeful I can find one and any suggestions would be appreciated.
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