Hey Vinnie, Where’s the Beef?

When I actually worked for a living, I had the opportunity to eat at a lot of really nice restaurants all around the United States. You know, the restaurants where you are served a tiny piece of Mozambique tilapia with stewed raspberries and capers drizzled with Sicilian olive oil on an oversized, square white plate, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $50, salad not included. For the most part, those meals were delicious and I was able to try a lot of foods I wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise. I am grateful to have had that opportunity.

But for the most part, I am a simple eater. And thankfully, so is my husband. When I told Bill I would take him anywhere he would like for his birthday dinner, he chose a place famous for its fried chicken. And as I go through my recipe files – those on Pinterest and those in my recipe box – the fanciest recipe I have is Coq au Vin. And I haven’t made that for years.

Bill grew up in Chicago – the food capital of the United States in my opinion. If you go downtown, there are innumerable fancy restaurants, similar to those I enjoyed earlier in my life. But the restaurants that Bill enjoyed were not really restaurants at all. They were food joints on the South Side of Chicago. Hot dog stands. Gyros places. Pizza parlours. If he was feeling really fancy, he might go to a locally-owned steak house where they still have red leather booths and serve a relish tray before bringing your salad made out of crisp iceberg lettuce and carrots.

And when we go to Chicago to visit his mother, those are the places we dine. I have mentioned before that Bill’s favorite food is pizza, and his favorite pizza joint is Fox’s, a chain of four or five restaurants on the south side of Chicago. The pizza is thin crust, and he always orders pizza with sausage. Yum…..

Bill Fox pizza

We were thrilled a couple of years ago when one of Bill’s favorite Chicago joints opened up a restaurant in Mesa, right down the street from where the Chicago Cubs play spring baseball. Why not? The place is always busy when we are there, and we go quite often.

Portillo's MesaPortillo’s has all of your Chicago favorites – hot dogs, gyros, tamales, hamburgers. But his (and increasingly my) favorite is their Italian Beef sandwich. Italian beef is slow cooked roast beef sliced very thin, served on a roll that is drenched in the “gravy.” It is served with either sweet or hot peppers. Sweet peppers are simply roasted green peppers and hot peppers are similar to giardiniera – a mixture of spicy pickled vegetables. Again, yum.

Recently he was hankering for an Italian beef sandwich, and it wasn’t handy to make a quick trip to either Chicago or Arizona. So I tried my hand at it, and found a Portillo’s copycat recipe for Italian beef. I’m no expert on whether or not it rivaled Portillo’s but I will tell you it was good, and satisfied my sandwich loving husband. And best yet, it cooked in a crock pot!

Soon we will be eating the genuine article in Mesa. But here’s something to enjoy in the meantime….

Italian Beef

Portillo’s Italian Beef Sandwich, adapted from Food.com

Ingredients
1 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
a t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. onion salt
3 c. water
1 t. dried parsley
1 t. garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 (2/3 OZ) package Italian salad dressing mix
5 lb. rump roast

Process
In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine the water, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, onion salt, parsley, garlic powder, bay leaf and salad dressing mix. Stir well and bring just to a boil.

Place roast in a slow cooker and pour mixture over the roast. Cover and cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours OR high setting for 4 to 5 hours. Remove bay leaf and shred meat with a fork. Serve on hard rolls.

Nana’s Notes: Genuine Chicago Italian beef sandwiches are made on a certain kind of bread that’s not available here. I used French hard rolls and it was delicious. Also, the genuine article uses roast beef that is sliced VERY THIN. Since I don’t have a meat slicer, I shredded the meat and it worked great. Chicago, don’t hate me. Finally, the test of a true Italian beef sandwich is that it is so sloppy that you have to lean over your plate to eat it. It might be hard to tell from the photo, but this one definitely was.

3 thoughts on “Hey Vinnie, Where’s the Beef?

  1. This is so ironic as my friend was telling me all about Portillo’s at dinner last night! And we were in Chicago two weeks ago and deemed it the best food trip ever. We ate at our favorite Gino’s pizza but tried Ditka’s for the first time. Oh my gosh THE MEATLOAF. I have never ordered meatloaf in a restaurant before but this was a no brainier. Jallepeno cornbread, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and onion frings all doused in Ditka’s amazing bbq sauce. One of the best meals I’ve ever had!! Chicago is definitely the food capital.

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