I know what you're thinking, "Nick, you mean Bari's Italian sub, not Italian beef." But hear me out. Swing by the esteemed Italian grocer on Grand Ave and you'll see an Italian beef special scrawled in black ink on a sheet of paper by the scale in the back (one of the employees assured me it had been around for a month). Do me a favor and order one. It might be one of the best Italian beefs around.
Let me back up for a moment. I've been thinking a lot lately about the Italian beef. Much like giardiniera, I had never heard of the sandwich before moving to Chicago, but I fell instantly for the messy, meaty behemoth. This roast beef sandwich is kind of like the unkempt brother of a French dip, and if life were fair, it would be as famous deep dish pizza. But I've begun to wonder if the sandwich's best days are behind it. Very few places roast the beef in house, with most preferring to purchase bland pre-cut slices that are warmed in a watery and greasy jus.
Here Bari excels. I'm not sure if I've ever tasted an Italian beef where the slices were this distinct, juicy, and tender—all without disintegrating into shards like a pot roast. That's impressive. If that weren't enough, the extra beefy jus adds far more than just moisture; instead it just ratchets up the meatiness.
Honestly, the only component that maybe could use some work is the bread. Instead of the same crusty rolls used for the Italian sub, which come from D'Amatos Bakery's coal-fired oven, Bari goes with a softer roll for the Italian beef. When I called, an employee confirmed that a different roll was used because it stood up better to the beef (she was also pretty sure the rolls came from Jewel). Since so much liquid is involved, it kind of makes sense that an Italian beef would require a softer roll. I mean, even the crustiest bread would break down after a good dunk in the jus, so why worry? Plus, the last thing the sandwich needs is restraint. But perhaps there is some unexplored middle ground.
Consider the Philly cheesesteak. Whatever you think of the griddled beef and melted cheese combo, you can't fault the crusty roll most of the best places in Philadelphia use. Interestingly, the only serious contender for best cheesesteak in Chicago comes from Monti's, and it only uses bread shipped from Amoroso Baking Company in Philadelphia.
But even with bread—which I still think is better than the kind used at most stands—I'm truly excited by the beef at Bari's. Hopefully this inspires other stands to step up their game.
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