CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

Dining, Donuts, Dives and Diatribes

  • Recent Comments

    cmh gourmand on You’d Rather Rax, But Th…
    Josh at LivingMCM on You’d Rather Rax, But Th…
    Pat Woodward on Brewed on the Bikeway ABC…
    alancookie on Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut…
    cmh gourmand on Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut…
    cmh gourmand on Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut…
    Carolyn Ison on New System Bakery, Chillicothe…
  • Categories

  • Top Posts

  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

Brewed on the Bikeway ABC’s: Athens, Beer, Cider & More

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

When I heard about Brewed on the Bikeway, I saw this as a way to combine two things I needed more of: riding a bike more often (as in cycling more than the 5 minutes I have biked each spring for the last three years when I fill my bike tires with air and test them out) and I needed to drink more beer. Well, not just beer, craft beer specifically crafted in Athens. So when I was offered a “partial scholarship” of sorts to explore Brewed on the Bikeway I was excited for an opportunity to blend beer and bikes.

Breaking down what Brewed on the Bikeway is, the name speaks for itself. A while back, a few sharp-eyed and forward thinking individuals noticed how close the many Athens area craft beverage makers are to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The bikeway follows the former pathway of the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad and the former Hocking Canal, often parallel to the Hocking River. The trail offers almost 21 miles of scenery connecting Nelsonville with Athens. Another amenity the trail offers is quick access to: Multiple Brewing (Nelsonville), Devil’s Kettle Brewing, Little Fish Brewing, Jackie O’s Taproom & Production Brewery as well the Eclipse Company Store. The trail is just a short hop from the original Jackie O’s Public House (which started the brewery explosion over a decade ago) and West End Cider House. Any one of these destinations is worth the trip – all of these combined makes for a great day. I was excited to explore how this all comes together.

But then, I felt trepidation. I am in horrible physical condition. Instead of Brewed on the Bikeway, I started the to fear the title of this post might be Fat Dude Sprawled out on the Bikeway. However, I was determined to stay the course. I quickly discovered the Bikeway is all about ease and convenience.

Having explored Nelsonville in-depth and with a short time frame to complete my “mission”, I skipped the northern 11 mile leg of the trail connecting Nelsonville to the nano community centered around The Eclipse Company Town in the Plains. The Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall was the perfect place to enjoy a few local beers, a great lunch and spread out my maps and materials to plot out my adventure.

Walking through the door, I was immediately smitten with the place. I chatted with owner Sean Kiser about the wonderland he has created in what used to be a small company town general store. At the Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall, a well curated collection of 30+ mostly local (Ohio) beers are paired with an impressive menu of pub grub incorporating many local ingredients. This is a relaxed, comfortable and sprawling space that is as conducive to chatting to people biking the trail or listening to live music inside or out.

The Beer Hall is adjacent to the Bikeway. After my meal which included samples of hard to find and newer breweries such as Sixth Sense Brewing in Jackson, I decided for a quick elliptical stroll around Eclipse before starting my ride. I popped into the Shop Athens Ohio store across the street to peruse the local products offered in a former row house. I found many interesting items, including pint glasses of closed Athens area watering holes to help former Ohio University Bobcats relieve their glory days.

My next destination, just a few feet away was Black Diamond Bicycles. The shop sells and services new and used bikes and conveniently offers reasonably priced bike rentals. After a quick check to make sure my bike was a good fit for me, I headed off on the bikeway.

As I approached the trail, several observations calmed my fears of a posting about the “fat dude subdued by the Bikeway”. The trail is in incredibly good condition and well maintained. Following a former railroad bed, it is largely on flat, level terrain. There are maps at many of the trail heads as well as mini bike service stations where you can check your tires and perform minor maintenance on your bike.

In a very short time, I found myself at my first brewery destination, Devil’s Kettle Brewing. Located on Columbus Road, the brewery is not adjacent to the bike trail but if you know the lay of the land, you can figure out how to get to it with minimal disorientation. I had a directional advantage because I have conducted many “research” visits to Devil’s Kettle in the past. To help out for your Brewed on the Bikeway adventure, if you see the bridge below, you are getting close (this is also the only significant elevational challenge I had on my ride and I easily bested it).

At Devil’s Kettle I was impressed by all of the changes the owners have made to their space in the short time since opening a few years ago. The brewery has progressed from a very raw, industrial space to being almost fancy. The one bit of infrastructure I was most excited to see was the solar panel array the brewery installed to supply much of the energy needed to run the operation.

I have always enjoyed the assortment of beers served at the taproom here, but as a PSA, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Devil’s Kettle usually offers one or two sodas they craft as well, including a really exceptional Ginger Ale. If you are visiting all of the breweries on the Bikeway and looking to pace yourself, an occasional craft soda, and a lot of water, is aways a good idea.

I then continued along the trail on my way to what I cautiously share is my favorite brewery in Ohio, Little Fish Brewing. Having been a frequent visitor to this brewery as well, I spied a short cut that shaved 10-15 minutes off of my ride. I am not ready to give that short cut away, or to lure you off what is a really good section of the trail, but if you are pressed for time and every minute counts, an astute eye and good off road tires can be helpful. Again, (taking either path, and I did both) I was mildly shocked at how close Devil’s Kettle and Little Fish are by bike. I did not even break as sweat.

A craft beer fan would be hard pressed not to enjoy every beer on the Little Fish menu. In addition to a cozy indoor and outdoor space, Little Fish, has a little farm, where they grow some of their ingredients, a dedicated space for the many food trucks that serve at the brewery and because this is Athens and it is a brewery, solar panels. Among many notable notes regarding Little Fish, it was one of the first breweries to serve a beer with all Ohio ingredients (malt and hops).

Pedaling on, my next destination took me off the trail with a short ride to West End Cider House and a meeting with my pal cider maker, distiller and brewer extraordinaire Kelly Sauber. Kelly was a long time brewer at Marietta Brewing Company. Several years ago he created Dancing Tree Distillery, which later became Fifth Element Spirits. In spite of the demands of operating a distillery, Kelly siphoned off some time to get West End Cider House going as well. (Read my post on the Cider House ->HERE). Kelly is one of my favorite people in the industry so having some time to sample some of his ciders while he brought me up to speed on some exciting changes to the operation coming in 2018 was time well spent. If you are new or old to craft ciders, this is a true destination to expand your appreciation of this cider and spirits. West End Cider House also offers cocktails and area craft beers in a relaxing environment with a choice of locally focused snacks.

I stayed/strayed off the trail, navigating the streets near Uptown, but was clearly on track for my next depot on the Bikeway, Jackie O’s Public House and Brewpub, the spot that started the craft beer explosion in Athens in 2005. What started as a small brewpub has grown into a local icon and Ohio Craft Beer Institution. (To fully appreciate the story of Jackie O’s read this great overview article from Good Beer Hunting). While I had great food options at the Public House, including pizzas made with spent grains from brewing and other dishes showcasing ingredients grown on the Jackie O’s Farm, I did make a small detour off the Bikeway to meal up at two of my favorite Athens eateries.

O’Betty’s Red Hot serves what I consider to be the best hot dogs and fries in the state of Ohio. This tiny space seats about 20 in a cozy setting that also features a hot dog museum of sorts. Any trip to Athens requires me to consume two Mata Hari’s (hot dogs are named after famous Burlesque performers) with an order of fries.

Just across State Street, Casa Nueva is another of my mandatory Athens area pit stops. Founded as a worker owned cooperative restaurant in 1985, “Casa” helped pioneer the local foods focus of the community. While I might not always have room for a third or fourth meal while exploring Athens by bike, foot or car, my minimum “drive-by” order is a House Margarita with a side of locally produced chips and house made salsas.

Having fueled myself with encased meats and more, it was time to continue back in the Bikeway for the last stop, Jackie O’s Taproom and Production Brewery on Campbell Street. This space started in 2013 and now produces the majority of Jackie O’s beer. The attached taproom is a good place to wrap up the drinking portion of my Brewed on the Bikeway experience. And of course because it is Athens, and because the space is a brewery, the spot is largely solar powered.

The return to Eclipse Company Store was uneventful. If I had more time and if it had been a day of the week when Multiple Brewing was open, I believe I had ample liquid courage to pedal the 11 miles to Nelsonville to finish the Bikeway in style with a turn victory lap.

In summary, I survived Brewed on the Bikeway without any bruises to my body or self worth. The trail was easy for an old out of shape guy to navigate. The pacing of the stops helped maintain my courage to carry on. The ease of bike rental helped me avoid the hassle of loading and unloading my bike for the drive down. All in all, it was a great way to balance biking with exercising my 21st Amendment right to enjoy a few adult beverages.

Here are a few tips for your own Brewed on the Bikeway adventure:

  • The Bikeway can be pretty busy on the weekends, so check ahead if you are renting a bike and allow a little extra time to navigate crowded taprooms.
  • If you are doing the whole route, know that Multiple Brewing has limited hours, mainly some weekend and evening hours, so call ahead. There is plenty to do in Nelsonville.
  • Some sections of the trail can be prone to occasional flooding, if that is an issue, the Brewed on the Bikeway social media team do a good job of getting the word out. Plan ahead.
  • The bikeway does not have any directional markers for the “brewed” destinations. Finding your way to the stops in often not intuitive, so you will want to take a look at a mapping site to orient yourself on how to get to some destinations that are a bit off the trail. Many are not within line of sight of the bikeway. For the organizers, I’d suggest some signage that on the Bikeway that could serve as prompts for some destinations. Something like “Columbus Road Spur” could help those not familiar with the area know that trail segment is the turn off to get to Devil’s Kettle without advertising the business or causing any legal awkwardness related to promoting an alcohol business on a public byway. Some embedded mini maps with suggested paths to the destinations not near the trail like West End Cider House and Jackie O’s Public House would be a good public service.
  • Whatever the amount of time you have budgeted for Brewed on the Bikeway, add another hour, or day, to your plan. You will still find there is much more you want to do and see in the area.

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

    And to connect with what is going on while you are in the area, look for these hashtags during your adventure.

    #AthensOhio
    #BrewedOnTheBikeway
    #OhioUniversity
    #VisitAthens
    #Athens30MM (connecting you with locally focused eateries and events in the area)

    Brewed on the Bikeway is just one path of many that will allow you to enjoy all that Athens County has to offer. The area is a hiking and outdoor enthusiasts paradise. There are several wineries that are well worth the short drive and countless other ways to unwind and enjoy what Southeast Ohio has to offer.

    Advertisements

    Posted in Athens, beer, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Don’t Bypass Nelsonville, The Star of the Hocking Hills

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2017

    image of nelsonville fountain

    Fountain in Nelsonville

    When a bypass of Nelsonville on State Route 33 was completed several years ago many wondered about Nelsonville’s future. Would people forget about what Nelsonville had to offer? Would the character of the community change? For me, as a long time fan of area, this bypass as well as several others created along the same route shaved a few minutes off my sojourns to Athens but they did not make me forget what else I loved about the area.. I did not miss getting stuck in traffic in Lancaster, Nelsonville and elsewhere along 33 while on my way to reconnect with all the Hocking Hills has to offer. I found the bypasses, created more byways to explore the region whereas before I was focused on a mission to endure to commute to get to Athens by a certain time to beat the traffic.

    Revisiting Nelsonville, I found a community that has even more to offer than I recalled. I found the lack of commuter traffic I was accustomed to from before the bypass was refreshing. The lack of cranky commuters streaming through the center of town made the community feel more intimate as well as inviting and in my case, much more relaxing. All of the things I enjoyed in my past visits to are still here and getting even better. Rhapsody the student staffed restaurant is expanding space and hours. Stuart’s Opera House, my favorite small concert venue in Ohio is being extensively renovated and will be even better in the near future. Nelsonville offers the ubiquitous small town experience (good enough for the movies if you have seen Mischief).

    The character of Nelsonville is defined by two key things: bricks and boots. Specifically Star Bricks and Rocky Boots. Let’s start with Star Bricks. This brick and many other bricks types define this part of the state. The Star Bricks were considered the finest sidewalk pavers of their era and any community or individual in the United States that wanted to showcase a walkway had only one clear choice, Star Bricks. You will find these in (pre 1930) upscale neighborhoods all over the country. The brick industry in this region paved the streets of the nation as well (in Columbus you will see how well these bricks have held up for over 100 years in German Village and The Brewery District). Stroll the Public Square of Nelsonville to appreciate the craftsmanship of Star bricks and the beautiful fountain in the center of the square. If you are an Ohio Brick nerd like me you will see exhibits about the bricks at different businesses in the area and you will see the Star brick image integrated into shirts and more.

    As for boots, those would Rocky Boots, a local company with a history that goes back to 1932. However, the real story is how this home-grown company beat the odds as an independent boot and shoe maker with innovative outdoor boots they created in the 1980’s. I drove by Rocky Boots for years, assuming is was just a factory outlet for boots. When I dropped in for a visit at the Rocky Outlet Gear Store I found much more than an outlet. The store serves as an outfitter offering everything you would need to provision yourself for exploring Hocking Hills. Obviously there is a tremendous selection of boots and shoes as well as outerwear, kids clothes, camping and hiking equipment, grilling supplies, etc. This outlet is more of a basecamp for any activity you would want to pursue in the area. As a little insider tip, on the top floor you can get some great view of Nelsonville and the surrounding area. The Boot Grill serves as the heart of the building and in many ways the community. In addition to offering their signature Bison Burger, the restaurant serves a wide variety breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as a specialty “bar” every day with a different daily feature such as hot dogs, fried chicken, shrimp and etc. In addition to giving visitors the chance to fuel up for their next adventure the grill serves as a community meeting place with a core group of residents dropping by several days a week to catch up on what is going on in Nelsonville.

    After wandering around Rocky Boots for an hour and not feeling like I barely scratched the service, I set out to explore downtown Nelsonville. My first stop was Fullbrooks Cafe. The menu offers much more than would seem possible in this small, intimate space. In addition to a wide selection of coffee and drinks, Fullbrook’s serves serval backs goods, soups, sandwiches and several daily specials. Like many independent eateries in the area, they are focused on a menu that sources local foods as much as possible. I tried a fresh scone and was able to get a small sample of a delicious soup I caught a whiff of as soon as I entered the door. Fullbrooks is a great spot to catch a snack while traveling through the square. The shop offers extended hours for events in town or when there are shows at Stuarts Opera House.

    Exploring the town square, I took a quick tour of Stuart’s Opera House which is wrapping up renovations to expand the space while retaining the character and history of the building. Walking along the Star Brick paved streets I explored shops that sold all type of crafts, quilts, art and more. Many of the businesses focus on items handcrafted by locals or sourced from materials in the region.

    All of the above can be good diversions to entertain you while you wait for a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. A variety of weekend train adventures are offered including the very popular Easter Bunny & Egg Hunt, Santa Train and Train Robbery where bandits board the train and rob you (on purpose).

    If two wheeled adventures are more your thing, then you have the HockHocking Adena Bikeway which will take you to Athens and back on a bike. And if craft beer is your even more your thing, then you can use this to explore craft beverage destinations in both locales via Brewed on the Bikeway.

    Finally on this adventure, I found the answer to a question that has been pestering me for over 25 years, what is the story of the cross on the hill overlooking the city. I have driven past this for decades and really noticed it on night time drives home when it is illuminated. I convinced my local guide to help me find my way to the top of the hill which is where I learned the story.

    The cross is a simple tribute from a husband to a deceased wife but also a monument to a community of people who helped the cross find a home on the hill. An interesting side note, an earthquake (really) knocked the cross down on the late 1980’s but several people worked together to get it reconstructed. There were many twists and turns on the road leading to the cross but when I arrived I was glad to chip another item off of my Nelsonville bucket list. (Note: by report this may be the largest illuminated cross in North America or the World, but I could not find documentation to confirm this. I can say, it is big.)

    To find out more about what to do in Nelsonville, Hocking Hills and the region, visit Athens County Ohio.

    Posted in Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Back to Lisska for Breakfast with Nick & Ginger & the Gang!

    Posted by cmh gourmand on September 7, 2017

    Just over two years ago I made my first trip to -> Lisska Bar & Grill on the east side. I recently received this comment on my blog from Ginger:

    Our family comes every Thursday morning for breakfast and enjoys the BEST BREAKFAST IN TOWN! Our late parents enjoyed Lisska’s when they were “courting” in the 30s! It is an AWESOME “gathering place” – join us any Thursday morning for a great time about 9:30 a.m.

    So how could I refuse an offer like that? As long time readers know, breakfast is not my bag as it is my fourth favorite meal, so I decided to have a consultant join me -> Breakfast with Nick. We checked our schedules for a Thursday that could work and then I contacted Ginger to let her know when we would be joining her.

    This “breakfast club” of sorts started almost five years ago when one of Ginger’s brothers passed away. At that time, the three surviving siblings decided they need to ensure they spent regular time together so it was decided every Thursday they would have breakfast somewhere in the city. Lisska was there second Thursday stop and they have not found reason to change-up the venue since they rediscovered the place.

    There are ten consistent regulars in this group with an ever-changing and eternally growing cast of special guests joining together at Lisska. On my visit, there were at least twenty affiliated members observing the passing of another in their cohort over the summer. Over time, certain traditions have developed in this cadre. They always say a prayer together before they start a meal. They rarely miss a Thursday unless an out of town visit family or a holiday gets in the way of one or more of the group, although Thanksgiving is no barrier to breakfast for this collective of breakfasters. Special bonus sessions recognize important life events such as birthdays and St. Patrick’s Day. Over time, Ginger’s go to breakfast was named in her honor. I’d call it a “Jack Benny Special” but at Lisska, it is known as The Ginger: half orders of Polish Sausage, toast (no butter), hash browns and one egg over easy (see below – as you can see, my camera has not had it’s coffee yet).

    As I was introduced to countless breakfast guests I was quickly indoctrinated into this tribe. I learned what HEC, BEC and SEC stood for on the menu: Ham, Egg & Cheese, Bacon, Egg & Cheese and Sausage Egg & Cheese. When I learned that the Polish sausage came from Kowalski’s in Detroit, my order was simple, one SEC on wheat.

    While I waited for my order, munching on a sample of homemade coffee cake (exceptionally good), I learned the stories of most of the members of this group while Ginger and I connected on her many stories of growing up in Clintonville in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as her careers in the insurance industry, law offices, an employee benefit company and countless community causes over the years. She connected the dots on how these people intertwined with each other and how many of them are connected to others I have come to know over time. Listening to the background chatter amongst this group I do not think one Columbus area Catholic school or church missed at least one mention as updates were made on the multitude of charities and community organizations this group invests their time and hearts into.

    As I indicated before, breakfast is not my thing. I would be hard pressed not to find a dessert I would not love, a price that did not seem like a steal or a story that ran on too long sitting on a stool here. My meal was fabulous but that was a side-line/dish to the company I was keeping. Sometimes a eatery creates a community among regulars or on occasion a community decides to make a place their own. Either of these phenomenons are rare occurences in this era. You can’t create the “glue” that creates a community like this on social media, in a corporate establishment or a new restaurant, even if independent, that has a business plan, extensive branding and lacks a less than a decade of grease on the grill. It takes a long time for a place to create a character for itself or to find a soul in its bricks and mortar and even then, you need to right mix of people on both sides of the counter to make the whole greater than the sum parts on the menu. This is an old school breakfast club that we could stand to have much more of today, even if other meals are involved.

    I started writing about food because I was interested in the history and stories of the people behind the counter and because by talking about food and not myself, it was easier for me to connect with people. So this was a great opportunity to reconnect with writing with connecting with a new community. And I got to hang out with Nick for a while, something I have not done in almost a year. Thanks for the opportunity Ginger and thanks for creating a community space (by fate not intention) Lisska.

    Posted in breakfast, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

    All That and…..a Bag of Chips! (Putting Sandwich Week in the Bag)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 13, 2017

    Well, that wraps up Sandwich week. As I was doing my sandwich sleuthing a few trends started to surface. One involved what some view as the lowly potato chip. Not so low in my book, in fact, I started to see them as a last hold out of a dying localized food culture. I noticed bags of chips in many varieties at any of the diners and dives I was eating these regional sandwiches at. More often than not the branding was unfamiliar to me. However as I started reading the labels and sleuthing their origins I noticed that these under the radar chips were often made not so far away from the epicenter of these regional sandwiches, if you drove 25 miles in an opposite direction you were just as likely to get a puzzled look asking about a Horseshoe Sandwich as you were about _________ Potato Chips. These two food trends travel back several generations before the ubiquitousness of food programing, the Internet and the homogenization of local and regional food cultures creating an affinity for boring and bland national brands. Every small town had a dairy, a brewery, a bread factory and a potato chip maker. That started to change in the 1980’s with the blitzkrieg like growth of Frito-Lay but even today we see embedded, splinter cells of regional potato chip lines, especially in my home state of Ohio. I grew up with Buckeye Potato chips, which has since crumbled away, but there are still many regional potato chip brands within Ohio and many loyal fans that swear by their chip from the old block. Here are a few examples:

    Ballreich’s Potato Chips – Tiffin
    Conns Potato Chips – Zanesville
    Jones Potato Chip Company – Mansfield
    Mike-Sell’s – Dayton
    Shearer’s – Canton

    Grippos – Cincinnati

    Gold N Crisp – Massillion

    Why so many potato chip factories in Ohio (2nd in the country for production). Part of that answer is due to our waistlines but the rest is history. Potato chips have been pleasing our palates for the past 150 years.

    America’s love affair with this tantalizing treat began in the summer of 1853 when a patron of Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake in New York sent his fried potatoes back complaining they were too thick. Cook George Crum sliced up more potatoes paper-thin and fried them to a crisp. They became a hit with the patrons and became known as “ Saratoga Chips.”

    The recipe soon spread to other restaurants along the East Coast, but in 1895, William Tappendon of Cleveland, began making chips in his kitchen and delivering them to neighborhood stores. He later converted a barn to manufacture the snack and is credited as the first potato chip retailer in the country.

    Posted in food | 4 Comments »

    Pittsburgh: Sammich City (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 12, 2017

    Many cities have an iconic food. Philadelphia has cheese steaks, New York is slow big it claims pizza, hot dogs and Reubens. Miami has Cuban Sandwiches and so on. An iconic sandwich may not come to most people’s minds when Pittsburgh rolls off the tongue but for me I think of the city with countless Sammichs to serve. There are a handful of cities, that when you say the name instant imagery comes to mind. One of this is Pittsburg: Steel, Carnegie, Heinz, Three Rivers, The Steelers, The Pirates, more Steel, etc. Today that image is, incorrectly, the rust belt. But this city of seemingly endless neighborhoods, hills and one ways streets always guarantees that you may need shift your belt a notch before you leave. There are countless sandwich shops throughout the city.

    The good people of the Iron City are known for an interesting interpretation of English with Pittsburgese phrases such as Yinz, Yinzer, Sees Ya and on occasion Sammich. In the Urban Dictionary, a Sammich is defined as a term for an exceptionally good sandwich and in this arena, Pittsburg delivers da goods.

    The original Primanti Brothers is looked in the Strip District. During the Depression, the diner was open to 3AM or later to serve late night workers, truckers and drinkers alike. Servicing this clientele meant having to create filling food that could be consumed quickly. So listen up Yinz, legend has it that a trucker came in concerned that his delivery of potatoes had frozen during the journey and might not be good anymore. He brought a few into the diner, so the cook fried some up to see if they were still edible. The spuds smelled great so other eaters asked for the potatoes to add to their sandwiches and a tradition was born. The archetypical Primanti Brothers Sandwich will have a grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based cole slaw (no mayo just oil and vinegar), two tomato slices and a mound of French fries between two pieces of thick Italian bread. See the photo at the beginning of this post as a visual aid.

    An iconic food of Pittsburgh is chipped chip ham. Loved and sought out with a vigor that many outside the city do not understand, Chipped Chopped Ham is a thinly sliced processed ham lunch meat that is often served as is, or lightly heated with some BBQ sauce mixed in. This style was made popular by another local icon, Isaly’s a largely forgotten Ohio purveyor of dairy and meats that was famous for the lunch counters before the 1960’s. Islay’s served….chipped chop ham throughout their chain of stores. This style of lunch meat has become so synonymous with the city that many residents of Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania often refer to this as Pittsburgh ham. You will still find sandwiches featuring chipped chop ham throughout the Pittsburgh.

    Fat Heads is well-known for their craft beers but their Pittsburgh Brew Pub is exceptionally renown for their intimidating sandwiches. My favorite, that is think is most reflective of the culinary loves of the city is the Southside Slopes Headwich. This monolithic sandwich consists of Kielbasa, Pierogies, American cheese, Grilled onions, Horsey sauce and two big, thick toothpicks with olives that vainly attempt to hold this together. It is served with fresh, homemade potato chips served with a wing sauce. The menu suggested washing ti down Wayne style with an Iron City Beer. Today, that may have changed to Fat Head Hop JuJu. (CMH Gourmand Note: I was surprised to see my old review of Fat Heads is still on -> Roadfood.com)

    Last and not least, because there are many, many more sammiches in the Iron City, let us discuss the Devonshire Sandwich. This was created by Frank Blaidi in 1934 (or 1935 sources vary) when he cooked at the Stratford Club (one block away from Devonshire Street). The components of this open-faced sandwich are: toasted bread, bacon, tomatoes and cheese sauce.

    I sampled modern-day versions at Dunnings Grill and Union Grill. My notes on Dunnings have disappeared. My notes on Union Grill have not. My memories of that sandwich have note disappeared either. I dragged a friend from Columbus for a day trip to Pittsburgh to eat sandwiches & hot dogs and this was the last stop of a very high calorie consumption day. The sandwich was so good, we did not have a problem pounding it down. What me here was the option yo split the sandwich in half for an extra two bucks. When it was served, we thought that made a mistake and gave both of us full sandwiches, we were the ones mistaken. It was the best and largest 1/2 sandwich of my lifetime. The sandwich used toast points as the base, and combined two generous strips of bacon, a whole Tomato slice, a lot of cheese sauce (some had carmelized and gotten crunchy), parsley flakes and a substantial dusting of Parmesan cheese. Great sandwich, great service and a great place.


    The Devonshire and the Hot Brown are two famous open-faced sandwiches but how do they differ? Not by much, below I have the typical recipe ingredients of each for you to compare. They only way to really sort this out would be to make each several times.

    Devonshire vs. Hot Brown

    Devonshire

    Cream Sauce:
    • 3/4 stick butter, melted
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, grated
    • 1 pint chicken broth
    • 1 pint hot milk
    • 1 teaspoon salt

    For each sandwich:
    • 1 slice good toast, crusts trimmed off
    • 3 slices crisp bacon
    • 5 thin slices cooked turkey breast
    • Cream Sauce, recipe above
    • Melted butter
    • Parmesan cheese and paprika

    Hot Brown

    4 oz. Butter
    Flour to make a Roux (about 6 tablespoons)
    3 – 3 1⁄2 cups Milk
    1 Beaten Egg
    6 tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese
    1 oz. Whipped Cream (optional)
    Salt and Pepper to Taste

    Slices of Roast Turkey
    8-12 Slices of Toast (may be trimmed)
    Extra Parmesan for Topping
    8-12 Strips of Fried Bacon

    Posted in sandwiches | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

    Beef on Weck – Western New York (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 11, 2017

    Beef on Weck is a popular sandwich in western New York including Buffalo and Rochester where Weck is considered an institution. The only major foray out of the state was during the origins of Buffalo Wild Wings which was initially called BW-3 when it started in Columbus (Ohio). The three W’s were wild wings & weck. Since most people did not know what Weck was and because it is a labor intensive sandwich to make, well… the third W quickly disappeared from the line up.

    A bit of background before we go into the meat of this matteer. Weck is occasionally known as wick. It consists of thinly sliced roast beef on a kummelweck roll. The top of the bun is soaked in the au from the roast beef and sprinkled with coarse kosher slat and caraway seeds. A hearty helping of horseradish os par for the course as well.

    The kummelweck roll (sometimes spelled “kimmelweck” or “kümmelweck”) gets it’s name from Kümmel a German word for caraway and weck or wecken which is a “roll” common in south-western Germany. The weck of New York is a bot different that what you would find in Germany or Austria, it tends to be softer. The origins of this sandwich are as hazy of the au ju that makes it an exceptional sandwich. We know it started in Buffalo. It may have been invented by a German baker named William Wahr. Legend has it, which is easy to believe, that a local bar owner felt the salty sandwich would encourage more bar business. Having consumed a few of these sandwiches myself, I can say, they pair exceptionally well with a cold lager.

    The best Beef on Weck I ever had was not at a restaurant by made by my friend Cliff Sawicki. A native of the Buffalo area, he made enough beef on wecks to feed 20 people for move in day at my first house back in 2002. I’m certain I ate enough to account for 10 of 20 person servings in the 3 hours it took to complete the move. As an expert on the region and the sandwich, I asked Cliff to chime on on his favorite haunts and he did indeed deliver as you can read below.


    Brunner’s Tavern
    3989 Main Street
    Amherst, NY
    (716) 836-9718

    This has been an Amherst tradition for a couple generations now. They serve a decent fish fry on Fridays and the kitchen is open for lunch and early dinner during the week. My favorite time to go is Saturday afternoon, the kitchen is closed, but the grill behind the bar is open. There are two things to get: the Steak Sandwich or the Roast Beef on Weck. Order the Steak Sandwich and the barkeep will throw a big chuck of beef on the grill, cook it to your liking, and then throw on some cheese, peppers and onions. For good measure, the sandwich is cut in half and served with wedge ridged potato chips and a pickle. MMM! Order the Roast Beef on Weck and watch the barkeep carve off slices from a fresh slab brought in just before opening. For good measure, some juice is ladled on the roll, the sandwich is cut in half, served with wedge ridged potato chips, pickle, and a jar of real horseradish on the side. If you want the Roast Beef get there early, they sometimes run out as soon as 12:30PM (although I understand they have been bringing in a second slab recently). Brunner’s is next to Ziggy’s.

    Jolly Jug
    797 Niagara Falls Blvd.
    Buffalo, NY
    (716) 836-9552

    I would give directions, but if you can read this, you are not drunk enough to believe the time warp, and thus won’t want to go. This is really a bar that also happens to serve a decent Roast Beef on Weck and Chili until 4:00AM. This was probably a hopping little neighborhood bar forty years ago, until the great super glue incident happened. Now, six or seven sixty-year old men have their elbows permanently affixed to the bar. All of these men are drinking Genesee Cream Ale. I have never heard of any performer listed in the juke box.

    I usually drag a couple unknowing friends down to the Jug around 3:30AM, go to the bar, order six Old Viennas, three Beefs, and three bowls of Chili. I then get some quarters, play the juke box and rack up a pool game. The barkeep is traditionally friendly, I expect because he actually gets to speak to someone who is alive. Everybody seems to enjoy the experience as it unfolds, but nobody has ever gone back with me. Oh, well, (they can go pound on the windows at Ziggy’s).

    My guess is theremay only be 1000 people that know about this place, 500 people that have been inside, 250 people that would admit they have been inside, and 100
    people who have thought to eat there….I only knew because an alcoholic
    took me there.


    In no particular order…

    Schwabl’s – Really good, I’ve only had the Beef on weck…I’d like to try
    some of the other stuff on the menu…old restaurant…old school. (CMH Gourmand Note; Schwabl’s is often noted to have the quintessential Beef on Weck).

    Bar Bill – The rave in the very small village of East Aurora…it’s a 30-40
    minute drive from the mainland, a very good sandwich, but if you need a fix
    there are equally good sandwiches with a shorter drive…the only reason I
    had ever been there was because my grandparents lived out there.

    Swiston’s – Been there a few times…. consistency isn’t always there. Their best efforts top the charts, but I’ve had an occasional average sandwichthere…one recent complaint someone told me about was too much fat on thesandwich…I’m torn about that comment.

    Anderson’s – Original location on Sheridan Drive has expanded into I believe locations in WNY. Still a decent quality sandwich, but would only be myfirst choice if I was going to top it off with some of Anderson’s frozen
    custard.

    Anacone Inn – I haven’t been here in some 15 years, the neighborhood hasgone way downhill, I’d like to give this one a shot again, but I would want to bring a posse along. BTW, they had a really good sandwich.

    Charlie the Butcher – Strangely, this is probably one of the most talked about Beef on Weckers, but I hadn’t tried it until this past summer…I wasnot impressed…Beef was a bit dry and not piled on very high….will probably try one more time just to confirm an unsupervised rookie didn’t make my sandwich.

    Posted in sandwiches | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

    The (Louisville) ((Kentucky)) Hot Brown (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 10, 2017

    The 1920’s was a very different time than today. Hotels were cultural hubs typically not only providing the best food in their home cities but the best entertainment. Such was the case for the storied Brown Hotel in Louisville Kentucky. During the Roaring 20’s the Brown was THE place to be featuring 600 rooms in 16 stories. The hotel offered nightly dance parties for up to 1200 guests that often continued well past the last evening so exhausted revelers often needed a hearty late night snack to recharge while resting up their tired dogs. The hotel’s chef, Fred K. Schmidt, created the Hot Brown in 1926 to fill up these guests so they could go home or go to bed. The sandwich became so popular that it was added to the daytime menu and at one time it was the menu choice of up to 95% of diners. The popularity of the sandwich soon found others spread throughout the city and the state.

    A Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich consisting of the following: a layer of bread, sliced turkey, bacon and then covered in Mornay sauce (a white sauce made with butter, flour, milk shredded or grated Gruyère cheese). By report a bit of Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on. This is baked or broiled until browned and ideally a bit of crisping occurs where the cheese meets the plate. When the sandwich is ready to serve it is topped with tomatoes and pimento.

    A spin-off version of the sandwich was also created at the hotel and was called the cold brown. The cold version consists of baked chicken or turkey, hard-boiled egg, lettuce and tomato served open-faced on rye bread then covered with Thousand Island dressing. There are two cousins to this sandwich: The Prosperity sandwich in St. Louis and the Devonshire in Pittsburgh.

    If one is only going to have one Hot Brown, then the only choice is to eat it where it was originated, at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It is still a favorite although today, it is not quite 95% of the dinner service tickets like the good old days.

    Of significant note and in my opinion, a mandatory pairing, is another Louisville icon, Derby Pie. The pie is a perfect combination of chocolate chips, walnuts and pie dough that is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen. No one else can legally make or serve Derby Pie without violating the trademark. My pie had the word Derby Pie stamped into the pie crust ring to show it was authentic.

    Now, if you decided you are going to have at least two Hot Browns in your life, then there is (was) only one place to go, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. (Update: sadly the cafe closed in 2013 so I’ve cut out most of my paragraphs on that so as to not be overly cruel). I’ll just say that the photo at the top of this post was one of their Hot Brown’s and it was truly an exceptional sandwich.

    Posted in food | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    The Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich of Indiana & Iowa (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 9, 2017

    BPT Sandwich

    The Breaded Pork Tenderloin is big in Indiana and Iowa – big as in size and big as in popular. These sandwiches can sometimes be found in other parts of the Midwest, especially in Illinois, which is sandwiched between these two pork powerhouses, but there is no place that displays the level of devotion to this sandwich greater than Indiana and Iowa. It has been estimated that breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches are served in at least fifty percent of Indiana restaurants. This sandwich is also listed on many menus in Iowa. In Indiana and Iowa, customers will ask for a tenderloin sandwich assuming it is breaded and that it is pork (an assumption that can lead to disappointment when traveling out of pork country). People in both states take pride in their prized sandwich and are politely dismissive of other state’s claims of pork prowess. Where is the true home of the Breaded Pork tenderloin Sandwich? It is really too close to call – this sandwich belongs to both Hawkeyes and Hoosiers.

    Many experts place the birthplace of the pork tenderloin sandwich in Huntington, Indiana and credit Nicholas Freinstein as the founding father of this heartland creation. He opened a restaurant, Nick’s Kitchen in 1908 after years of peddling his sandwiches on the street. Legend has it that his brother Jake, having lost function of his hands to frostbite after an unfortunate wintertime carriage accident, used the stumps of his forearms to tenderize the pork. Today, pork tenderloin purveyors have found alternate means to tenderize the meat but it is still as good.

    The basic breaded pork tenderloin sandwich generally starts a large cut of pork loin. The meat is tenderized until it is the desired thickness, usually 1/4 inch thick but sometimes up to a 1/2 inch. The breading is customarily a simple mix of water, flour, salt and pepper. Some places will add cornmeal or another special ingredient but the standard is to keep it simple. The sandwich is typically fried or deep-fried. The tenderloin is always significantly bigger than the bun which is typically a hamburger bun or sometimes a Kaiser roll. The condiments of choice are basic – usually pickles, often onions, and occasionally lettuce. In Indiana – expect mustard and/or mayonnaise while in Iowa it is most often mustard and/or ketchup. What a difference a few hundred miles can make. The sandwich is always a meal and taking some to go will have no negative effect on ones reputations with the locals.

    (disclaimer: the sites below were last fact checked in 2005)


    Mr. Dave’s
    102 E Main St.
    North Manchester, IN 46962
    260-982-4769
    Closed Sunday

    Mr. Dave is Dave Klapp. He opened this cozy little spot in 1962 on the corner of Market and Main. The pork tenderloin sandwich has been a local favorite for decades and is frequently mentioned in newspaper articles and national magazines. The sandwich won several contests and awards including the Pork Producers Appreciation award in 1990. Dave’s son Kevin is running the restaurant now and continues to stay busy frying up tenderloins. Customers order at the counter or drive through window and after a short wait they can eat inside, at a picnic table, or on the go. The sandwich is popular outside of town with over 1000 shipped around the country each year.

    Nick’s Kitchen
    506 N Jefferson St.
    Huntington, IN 46750
    260 356 6618
    Closed Sunday
    Open 6 AM to 2 PM

    Huntington has the Dan Quayle Museum – but on a more historical note the town is home to Nick’s Kitchen – the originator of the Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich. In 1969, the restaurant was purchased by the Bailey family, and is now owned by Jean Anne Bailey. Jean Anne continues to serve the sandwich as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The motto of the restaurant is on the wall – “We don’t do fast food, we just do great food fast!” Diners can hear the tenderloins frying in the kitchen whether sitting at the counter or farther away in a booth. Service is quick and efficient but not rushed – it does take a little time to make homemade food.

    Nickel Plate Bar and Grill
    8654 E 116th St
    Fishers, IN 46038
    317 841 2888

    The Nickel Plate Bar and Grill is on the right side of the tracks – the side with one of the best-breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches in Indiana. The Nickel Plate is more bar than grill and is located right at the railroad crossing. In 2005, Indy Men’s Magazine picked the tenderloin at the Nickel Plate as the best out of 64 entries. The tenderloin served in this sandwich is thicker than most and has cornflakes incorporated into the batter. The sandwich is served on a corn-dusted roll and served with a side dish. Customers in a hurry can order at the bar or get the sandwich to go. Fishers, Indiana is located just outside Indianapolis outerbelt (465) off I 69 so the Nickel Plate makes a nice side trip for anyone going cross-country on Interstate 70.

    Red Onion
    3901 W State Street
    Sheridan, IN 46069
    317 758 0424

    Pork Tenderloin sandwiches are often described as two-fisted sandwiches. At the Red Onion, this type of description may be an understatement. Their oversized tenderloin still hangs out from the giant, double sized hand made bun so even eating halfway through is an accomplishment. Mere mortals or people adverse to leftovers would be better off ordering the junior tenderloin which is much more manageable. The Red Onion serves up to 900 of these sandwiches each week – that is a lot of pork and a lot of carry out containers.

    Darrell’s Place
    4010 1st St.
    Hamlin, IA 50117
    712-563-3922

    Darrell’s Place is an easy place to miss even though it is located in a very small town. If it were not for the sign, it would be easy mistaking this restaurant for some other type of business and just drive by. Finding Darrell’s is well worth the effort. In 2004, the Iowa Pork Producers Association proclaimed that Darrell’s Place had the best breaded pork tenderloin in the state. For the next several months, hundreds of people made the pilgrimage to Darrell’s to find out if this was true. The traffic has died down a bit but people keep making the journey to try out this sandwich and it is hard to believe anyone would be disappointed. Darrell hand cuts the pork loins himself and makes a very simple breading out of flour. The tenderloin is a bit thicker than the typical pork tenderloin sandwich and the breading is a little lighter and flakier than what is usually encountered. The sandwich at Darrell’s did earn the acclaim it received. Darrell’s is off the beaten path but it is worth the drive. For travelers with a little extra time – consider doing the scenic drive on SR 44 starting around Lake Panorama.

    George the Chili King
    5722 Hickman Road
    Des Moines, IA
    515 277 9433
    515 255 9950
    Closed Sunday

    George Karaidos Sr. won a newspaper sponsored chili contest in the early 20th century so he was dubbed the Chili King, the name stuck. He opened this Drive-in / Diner in 1952 and not much has changed since then. Randy Karaidos is now the king of this castle, which still offers carhop service. If you want to eat inside, there is counter seating available in front of the grill. In addition to chili, this place is also well known for good pork tenderloin sandwiches. This restaurant makes a version of the pork tenderloin that takes this sandwich up a few points on the cholesterol scale. The Fat Man is a tenderloin with ham and cheese added as well as lettuce, tomato, onions, and more condiments. The tenderloins are frozen but deep-fried when ordered and cook up in less than 5 minutes. George’s is a local institution and worth a visit whenever visiting Des Moines.

    Hamburg Inn #2
    214 N Linn St
    Iowa City, Iowa 52245
    (319) 337-5512

    Once upon a time, there were three Hamburg Inn’s. Now there is only one, which is Hamburg Inn #2. This restaurant is a favorite with local residents as well as Iowa State students and alumni. It has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as radio and television programs. Numerous celebrities including two presidents have dined in the Hamburg Inn. The Panther family has continued the Hamburg Inn tradition of serving great comfort food at a reasonable price. The gigantic menu features a good-sized breaded pork tenderloin sandwich that is best washed down with one of their renowned pie milkshakes. I tried the apple pie milkshake and it was the best I milkshake of my life.

    Joensy's Restaurant by A Conaway

    Joensy’s Restaurant
    101 West Main St
    Solon, IA 52333
    319 624-2914

    The folks at Joensy’s take pork pretty seriously. The large sign above the entrance (which is bigger than the sign for the restaurant itself) proudly proclaims “Home of the Biggest & Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa”. Joensey’s has been pork tenderloin purveyor since 1983 and has generated a lot of recognition over the years. A variety of sandwiches and hearty dinners are served at Joensey’s but the breaded pork tenderloin remains the signature item for the restaurant. The tenderloin is about two to three times the size of the bun, which tries to serve as a delivery device for this oversized, two-handed, mammoth sandwich. A person could look for a bigger pork tenderloin sandwich elsewhere but I would suggest that they go to Joensy’s first so they have something to eat while driving around Iowa looking for something larger.

    Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop
    1401 S.W. Army Post Road
    Des Moines, IA
    515 287-4742
    Closed Sunday and Monday

    Smitty’s specialty is the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, which is not a big surprise considering the name of the shop and that is in Iowa. Smitty’s does at least one thing a little different than other pork tenderloin hawkers – there are a variety of styles to choose from. The easy choice is whether to order a large or small sandwich. However, the tough choice is deciding among the King Tenderloin (Big), Chili-Cheese Loin, Taco Loin or Vegetable Loin (don’t panic – this is just a tenderloin with tomato, lettuce, and pickle). Smitty’s also ships tenderloins in packages of a dozen in the lower 48 states if you cannot make it to Des Moines or feel you need to try some of the other styles later.


    The Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich seems to hold a special place in the hearts of many people from Iowa and Indiana. Some fans refer to the sandwich as a BPT (Breaded Pork Tenderloin). A few fans have taken fandom to the next level – BPT zealot. Here are two video resources to better understand this lifestyle choice.

    Stalking the Wild Breaded Pork Tenderloin in Iowa

    This website is a pictorial journey to some of the favorite spots for BPT in Iowa.

    In Search of the Famous Hoosier Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
    A documentary film by Jensen Rufe



    The Other White Meat Sandwich?

    The three biggest pork producers in the United States are Iowa, Indiana, and North Carolina. We know what Iowa and Indiana do with their pork but what about North Carolina? Well, the BPT pretty much unheard of in North Carolina BBQ country but there is a 2nd cousin of the BPT – the Pork Chop Sandwich.

    Snappy Lunch
    125 North Main Street
    Mount Airy, NC 27030
    336-786-4931

    The quintessential Pork Chop sandwich can be found in this quintessential diner. Mount Airy was the childhood home of Andy Griffith and served as the model for Mayberry in his television series. Too bad this sandwich did not appear on TV or we might be able to find more of them elsewhere. The Snappy Lunch menu features the Famous Pork Chop Sandwich, which is a large pork cutlet, dipped in batter, pan fried and served with tomato, onion, chili, coleslaw, mayonnaise and mustard. The pork is tenderized by a special machine and the sandwich accounts for about 90% of the food sold at the restaurant.

    Posted in sandwiches | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

    The Horseshoe Sandwich, Springfield IL (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 8, 2017

    Springfield, Illinois is nationally known as the home of Abe Lincoln. Although virtually unknown outside a one hour driving radius of the Illinois capital, locals are almost as proud of their other hometown hero – the Horseshoe sandwich. The Horseshoe is the house sandwich of Springfield with many restaurants offering some version of what is often referred to as a “heart attack on a plate”.

    Local lore generally places the birth of the Horseshoe at the Leland Hotel (closed in the 1970’s) in 1928. A few sources name other spots, among them the (Wayne’s) Red Coach Inn, as the originator. The original horseshoe was an open faced sandwich consisting of two slices of thick, toasted bread with ham placed on top of each piece, a pile of fries with the whole heap drenched in cheese sauce. The sauce is typically a closely guarded secret and varies from place to place but most published recipes use a variation of Welsh rarebit sauce. Typical ingredients in the sauce include beer, egg yolks, butter, Worcestershire sauce, cheddar cheese and a combination of spices. Horseshoe history decrees that the original sandwich used ham steak, which looked like a horseshoe after it was cooked. The French fries are supposed to represent horseshoe nails. The plate is an anvil and slices of bead represent hoofs. Today, there are many variations in the meat part of the sandwich and a few restaurants even pony up an occasional vegetarian version. If you want to be more health conscious order a ponyshoe, which is half of a horseshoe.

    D’arcy’s Pint
    661 W. Stanford Ave.
    Springfield, IL
    217-492-8800
    (Closed on Sunday)

    D’arcy’s Pint is consistently the local favorite for Horseshoes. This family friendly Irish themed bar / restaurant has only been around since 1998 and moved to it’s new, bigger location in May of 2005. D’Arcy’s serves up over a dozen varieties of shoes. The base sandwich is two pieces of Texas Toast; with meat placed on each slice served with either a traditional or spicy white cheese sauce and what seems like a pound of crinkle cut fries. Meat choices include corned beef, walleye, Italian sausage, and breaded pork tenderloin. The customer favorite is the Buffalo Chicken Horseshoe which is served with a side of hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. If someone in your party is afraid of ordering a pint (horsehoe) or half-pint (pony shoe), the menu also features traditional Irish favorites, bar food, and other famous sandwiches including breaded pork tenderloins, Muffalettas, New York style corned beef and Reubens.

    Norb Andy’s Tabarin (actual spelling)
    518 East Capitol Ave.
    Springfield, Illinois 62701-1814
    Phone: (217) 523-7777

    There is a lot of history at Norb Andy’s. The building has been around since 1837 and it is on the national register of historic places. The name of this tavern is derived from the name of the man that owned it from 1937 to 1979 – Norbert Anderson. Norb Andy’s is a dark, cozy bar with nautical themed décor that is within easy walking distance of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and most downtown sights. If you get lucky, you might even get a parking spot at one of the meters out front. Norb’s has eight varieties of “shoes” including Italian Beef and Seafood (shrimp and crab). Most customers order the horseshoe with hamburger patties, which is the baseline horseshoe in town. An insider tip from the bar staff – the bathroom is up front. Virtually everyone wanders off looking for it in the rear of Norb Andy’s only to find a small dining nook with a few tables and several portraits of famous ships of the 18th century.

    Posted in food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    The Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 7, 2017

    Italian Beef

    (Disclaimer: This was written in 2005 and 2006 so some site info many no longer be accurate)

    Chicago is a food lover’s town offering three homegrown culinary inventions – Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Dogs and the third (and least traveled) of the triumvirate – the Italian Beef Sandwich. Few people have heard of this Chicago cultural icon outside of the Windy City metro area, – but once you get a big, wet, messy bite of this sandwich – you are hooked.

    The history of the sandwich is about as clear as the juice the beef swims in. You won’t find this sandwich in Italy; most people agree the sandwich evolved in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930’s. A place called Al’s on Taylor Street has been around since 1938. Other local lore implies the origin of Italian Beef at a place called Maxwell’s. The popular sandwich rapidly populated Chicago’s neighborhoods with beef stands in the late 1940’s. Today the signature sandwich is served up at hundreds of places from old mom and pop stands to new fangled franchises.

    The building blocks of the Italian Beef are:
    Bun – a Chicago style French roll – crusty on the outside – soft on the inside
    the beef – thinly sliced and cut against the grain
    the juice/sauce – a highly seasoned au jus with slight variations depending on the establishment but usually including some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and other herbs and spices
    and the toppings – typically sweet peppers or Giardiniera (Jar Din Era). You can get cheese at a few places but for most Chicagoans that is like putting ketchup on a Chicago dog – you just don’t do it.

    Before ordering a Beef – you need to know what to ask for. Each choice is critical and needs to be made before you approach the counter.

    First decision – Dry or Wet. A wet sandwich will have the roll dipped in the juice as well. A dry sandwich will have what escapes the meat or a little extra juice the sandwich maker ladles in with the meat.

    Second decision – Sweet or Hot? Sweet will get you roasted green bell peppers. Hot will typically give you Hot (Spicy) Giardiniera relish – the typical combination includes cut up cauliflower, celery, jalapeno and/or sport peppers, carrots, and spices (the recipe for this relish varies from place to place).

    Third Decision – can you get a combo? The Combo sandwich adds Italian sausage to the Italian beef – can you say coronary disease!!!

    Fourth decision – can you get “red Gravy/sauce? A few places offer a red sauce for the beef – this is basically spaghetti sauce – but this is rare and not favored by many Italian Beef aficionados.

    Fifth decision – “ya want fries with that?”

    Pat Bruno and Dennis Foley, famed food writers and known Beef eaters describe the Chicago Lean. An Italian Beef Veteran will often eat this sandwich standing up with the torso leaning forward or at least maneuvering the tail end of the sandwich to a strategic angle to avoid the drippings of the sandwich. Any strategy that avoids loosing the slightest bit of sandwich while protecting ones clothing is preferred. Some of the better beef stands invest a little extra in a thicker grade of wax paper to wrap the sandwich in – but even this will not guarantee keeping the sauce off your shirt.

    Many of the places get their beef from Scala Beef – which has a great reputation in town. Most of the rolls are from Gonnella Baking Co. or Turano Baking Company – also highly thought of companies. It is not uncommon to see giardiniera served out of a large glass jar from one of several local purveyors. Considering all these commonalities – what separates one beef from another – quite a bit. Beef fans will scrutinize every detail such as how the sirloin is cut – too thin or too thick and how each place handles their beef from first cut to the last. Seasoning and toppings are critical too and always noticed by anyone that has been to more than a couple beef stands. Even small touches such as how the rolls are stored and whether or not the Giardiniera is self serve can be crucial factors.

    My Chicago beef guide – who I will call Mac the Knife for safety purposes – said this after one place – “they say you can’t screw up an Italian Beef – well you can and _______ did!!” So to make sure your first experience is a good one – here are some places that consistently do everything right.


    Looking for beefs around Chicago – you will hear the name Al mentioned more than once. The problem is there is more than one Al’s, so where do you go first – I will help you sort out A Tale of Two Al’s.

    Al’s #1 Italian Beef
    What does the phone book say: Al’s #1 Italian Beef

    Locations: Over 10
    Most convenient location:
    169 West. Ontario
    (312) 943-3222

    Open since:
    The Franchise started in 2001. But the Ontario Al’s does have common ancestry with the Taylor St. Al’s. This location has been around for several years.

    Beef is cut and cooked in house: Yes

    What you need to know. The Ontario location is within a baseball toss of Ed Debevic’s, Carson’s Ribs, Gino’s East Pizza and a Portillos – so you can cover all of your Chicago food needs on foot.

    Getting there on the EL / Subway:
    Brown Line to Chicago or Merchandise Mart

    Can you get a beef on Sunday:
    Yes

    Inside seating:
    Yes


    or you could go to…..

    Al’s #1 Italian Beef

    What the phone book says: Al’s Bar-B-Q

    Location(s): one
    1079 West Taylor St
    (312) 226-4017

    Open since:
    1938

    Beef is cut and cooked in house:
    Yes

    What you need to know:
    Mario’s Italian Ice shop, which is among the best in Chicago, is across the street. This Al’s has been listed in nearly every article written about Italian Beef. Little Italy is a great neighborhood for food lovers to stroll around.

    Getting there on the EL (subway):
    Blue Line to UIC-Halsted

    Can you get a beef on a Sunday:
    No

    Inside Seating:
    No – but there is room to do a Chicago lean inside and a few picnic tables outside.


    more places to try:

    Carm’s Beef
    1801 S. Wolf Road,
    Hillside, IL
    708 449-0125

    Any second or third generation Italian Beef eater will probably pause for a minute and smile when you mention Carm’s. Many years ago, there were four locations. The original and favorite was on Cicero Avenue. Today, just the Hillside location remains. Joe Mantenga seems to love the place – he has two autographed photos inside. This Carm’s serves much more than Italian Beef but it keeps the family recipes and legend alive with the most appealing looking Italian Beef sandwich in town.

    Carm’s Italian Beef
    1057 W. Polk St.
    312-738-1046

    The Little Italy Carm’s is no relation to the Hillside Carm’s. This location opened in 1926 as a grocery store called Fontano’s. In the 1960’s the store moved across the street and this location started specializing in sandwiches and Italian Ices. The DeVille family knows many of their customers – people from the neighborhood and nearby University of Illinois at Chicago students. I lady at the counter asked me “who would want to read about Italian Beefs?” This book is the answer.

    Boston’s Bar-B-Q
    2932 W Chicago Ave (Corner of Grand and Chicago)
    Chicago, IL
    312 486 9536
    (Closed Sunday)
    Boston’s started out as a bar in 1949 but switched over to a Beef place as their sandwiches gained more renown. This place is a little out of the way in an industrial section of Chicago but is worth the trip – at least in the daytime. Over the years, Boston’s has been consistently listed as a top place when Chicagoans rave about the best Beefs in town. This beef stand is also highly frequented by the Chicago police and other public servants, which is a solid endorsement for any type of food. Beef eaters will also find a Godfather movie poster hanging on the wall – although not scientifically proven, this type of décor typically has a high correlation with good Italian Beef. If you have not had a combo sandwich – this is one the best places to do so.

    Chickies
    2839 S Pulaski Rd
    Chicago, IL
    312 762 2333 (BEEF)

    Chickie’s is a classic Chicago Italian Beef Stand that blends into its working class neighborhood. The inside is standing room only but there are two picnic tables outside. The beef is strongly seasoned. The Giardiniera is homemade with a lot of large slices of celery mixed in with the spicy blend. The place has been around since 1962 and is a lunchtime favorite for nearby office and factory workers.

    Duke’s Drive In

    8115 S Harlem Ave
    Oak Lawn, IL
    708 599-0576
    http://www.dukesitalianbeef.com/

    Duke’s is kind of the new kid of the Italian Beef block. This south side establishment has been serving Italian Beef sandwiches since 1975. Duke’s is a quintessential drive-in, which makes it a favorite of truckers and classic car enthusiasts. Although some places have received higher rating for sandwiches – for the Chicago gull population Duke’s is the hands down favorite. Not even the multiple signs posted that state feeding the bird is against city statutes will keep these feathered French Fry eaters way.

    Johnnie’s Beef
    7500 W North Ave
    Elmwood Park, IL
    708 452 6000
    (Second location –
    1935 S ARLINGTON HEIGHTS RD
    ARLINGTON HTS, IL 60005-4017
    847-357-8100
    (Closed Sunday)

    Really good beef can be found outside the Chicago Loop and Johnnie’s Beef is worth the trip to the burbs to prove it. Expect to find a line of customers when you pull in this drive in’s driveway. Don’t let the sight of people queued up outside the door deter you – this place moves people through quickly because the guys at the counter are efficient order takers – much like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you forget to order your fries or the type of peppers you want because you panicked then you can drown your sorrows in one of the best Italian Ices this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

    Max’s Italian Beef
    5754 N Western Ave (near Hollywood Ave.)
    Chicago, IL 60659-5114  
    (773) 989-8200
    (Closed Sunday)

    The Estes family takes their business seriously – they post their home and work phone numbers on the wall so you can call them if something is not to your satisfaction. The stand has been around since 1957 and you can see a leftover wooden sign from the day that Beefs were well under a dollar. Today, the place has four tables and counter seating that rings the inside with plenty of TV’s for watching local sporting events. Max’s offers self-serve, spicy Giardiniera and a giant menu including their famous Ghetto Fries (BBQ sauce or gravy, Onions, Giardiniera, and a lot of melted cheese). When they dip a Beef at Max’s it comes out really wet – so be ready.

    Patio
    1503 W. Taylor St.
    Chicago, IL 60607
    312 829 0454
    The Patio has been around for over 50 years with the last 23 at this location in the heart of Little Italy (http://www.littleitalychicago.com). There is no patio at the Patio (that was at the original location) but there is one of the least expensive Italian Beef sandwiches in town. As a bonus they wrap their sandwich a high-grade wax paper (extra protection for beef greenhorns) that is more resilient than what other places use. The friendly counter staff will make you feel at home in this cozy spot that seats about ten.

    Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage
    7153 W 127TH St
    Palos Heights, IL
    773 239 1243

    14279 Wolf Rd.
    Orland Park, IL 60467-1932
    708 403-9070
    10337 S. Kedzie Ave.,
    Chicago, IL
    773 239-1243
    18328 Governors Highway
    Homewood, IL
    708 647-9999

    Even though Pop’s family of restaurants has grown – the friendly service helps retain the feel of a Mom and Pop establishment. Pop’s has one of the best cost to beef ratios of any Italian beef purveyor, they do not hold back on the beef in their sandwiches. As for toppings, this small chain has the best self-serve hot giardiniera in town. This is a good place to come if you need a place to sit down since there is some seating available.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Posted in food | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »