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Beefathon IV - a tale of survival

Beefathon IV - a tale of survival
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  • Beefathon IV - a tale of survival

    Post #1 - May 21st, 2005, 6:20 pm
    Post #1 - May 21st, 2005, 6:20 pm Post #1 - May 21st, 2005, 6:20 pm
    The Beefathon trail is not always just fun, delicious sammies, and excellent camaraderie. No, at times it is a chore, draining drudgery, just like any other job.

    And today's tasting was just that - a job, a chore, only relieved by the excellent company of my intrepid fellow tasters, regulars mostly by now, with a singular focus, and a pretty well established system. Really, the beef was not good.

    Except one, and that place combined a pretty good sammy, with a great store, and a very pleasant owner. So it was not a complete loss, but those other 5 sandwiches you would not wish on a dog - okay, maybe only one was that bad, but the rest were definitely not good.

    That is the high level recap, now I will let my fellow tasters share their impressions, and then I will report the scores and detailed comments.

    Gentlemen, reports please!
    Last edited by dicksond on May 22nd, 2005, 7:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #2 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:40 am
    Post #2 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:40 am Post #2 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:40 am
    Okay, so how bad could these places have been?

    Let's take LuLu's as an example, which had the advantage of an excellent sign (you can click the pix to make them bigger; if you click this one, you can see dicksond doing his gangsta thing, and Flip indulging him)

    Image

    The diluted flavors of the beef were not enhanced by the oddest damn sweet peppers I've ever had. They were boiled until the skins feel away from the fruit, leaving translucent husks in a bland green puree. Ridiculous.

    Image

    Check out the Lu-Lu's "sauce." Thin, vapid, uneventful -- though if you had straight spoonful, you can actually taste something in there.

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    As always, the food fellowship of guys like these (Kman, Pigmon, VIman) is what makes even the most taste-free forays enjoyable.

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    GWiv summed up the sentiments of many as we hacked down a series of mediocre sammies. After this, I headed home to more appetizing pursuits: spreading manure on my tomato patch.

    Image

    David "Hey, They Can't All Be Johnnie's" Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #3 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:10 pm
    Post #3 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:10 pm Post #3 - May 22nd, 2005, 12:10 pm
    If I went on LTH events solely for culinary reasons, then Beefathon IV would have been considered nearly a complete bomb. I stayed for the first 4 places (Damenza,s, Lulu’s, Donald’s Best ,and Ricobene’s) and all I can say is that I endured the mission. Between them, they ranged from average to having to ask the question “ How does this business survive serving food like that?” But I don’t go to these events with just the food in mind. For me, it borders on the philosophical. Living in a world where we have become masters at taking the soul out of everything through commercialization, the pursuit of finding places that still have life are hugely important. This is not to mention that sense of discovery in finding new frontiers. Maybe it’s our own little way of making ourselves feel like modern cowboys. Who knows? But most important and surprising to me is the fact that I’m continually meeting quality people who attend these events. On that fact alone, I would say that outings such as Beefathon IV are always a massive success.
    It is probably a tall order to expect as much success for Beefathon IV as you would expect for Beefathon I just on the logical assumption that it’s early participants were going to what they deem to be the best around. At this point, we might be just coloring in the details. I came into this event thinking it would be pretty amazing if one in four places would be good to great. My expectations, this time, were realized. Many thanks to all who attended and help set it up. Always fun.
    (How about that bouillon dip at Lulu,s?!!!)
  • Post #4 - May 22nd, 2005, 1:35 pm
    Post #4 - May 22nd, 2005, 1:35 pm Post #4 - May 22nd, 2005, 1:35 pm
    Sounds like I picked the right weekend to be out of town. Sorry to hear about the dissapointing beef.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #5 - May 22nd, 2005, 4:58 pm
    Post #5 - May 22nd, 2005, 4:58 pm Post #5 - May 22nd, 2005, 4:58 pm
    so who made the one reasonable sandwich?

    I had an Al's (on Taylor) last week and it was NOT as good as it had been the last few times.
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #6 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:22 pm
    Post #6 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:22 pm Post #6 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:22 pm
    While the eating portion of this Beefathon was mostly a chore, there was another aspect which was considerably more enjoyable. We had a perfect Spring day with which to enjoy some quintessential Chicago neighborhoods.

    Focusing on the first aspect, the food, the beefs themselves were mostly mediocre, hardly anything to make a trip for. We had a wonderful walk down Taylor street between Damenzo's and Lulu's, with a brief stop at Ferrarra bakery for a bite of sfogliatella (and some cookies for one delighted Lucantonius).

    Damenzo's had some decent fries, and a beef that needed tons of their rich gravy and giardiniera to survive. Lulu's served the mirror image sandwich: The meat was decent but everything else around it just plain sucked.

    The second half of the trip added a breaded-steak-a-thon, ignited by Erik M's lambasting of Ricobene's.

    I was not to surprised to discover that Erik was dead-on. The sandwich was awful. On the other hand, I was completely surprised to find that Ricobene's breaded steak was not the worst sandwich of the day. It was eclipsed by Ricobene's Italian Beef which tasted as much like shoe leather as the steak tasted like carpet. The sandwiches, combined with Ricobene's marketing-team invented atmosphere, made me want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

    Shame on the people who dropped out before the final two, the Bridgeport leg, because this is where the beefathon picked up in taste and atmosphere.

    Freddy's, home of the double sausage, had a lively sidewalk table open for us where we ate a double-stuffed beef, a breaded steak that actually tasted like steak, three good ices (lemon, watermelon, and strawberry), and a decent (if slightly dry) double sausage. I had fun at Freddy's but I'm not coming back for the beef. One of Freddy's other patrons swore by their eggplant, which I'll try if I'm around there again.

    The beef at Freddy's tasted of nothing, sliced a little too thin for my liking, and really wasn't enjoyable in any particular way. The Ore-Ida fries didn't help much either. Washing it down with a darn-tasty lemon ice helped a ton.

    Freddy's does have the best sweet peppers I've ever had, par-cooked so they're crisp and still sweet. But, as dickson said, having the best sweet pepper at a beef stand is like being the tallest dwarf. I could not agree more as, on this day, I almost swore off ever eating one again.

    The final stop was the payoff, not only because it was the best beef of the day, but because the atmosphere (I think I'm quoting VI here) "belongs in the Smithsonian". Uncle Johnny's is part of a dying breed, a corner deli/market in the middle of a residential neighborhood that serves hot food at a very reasonable price. No indoor seating is available, but 1.5 benches outside do the job quite well.

    When we arrived, the three guys were sitting at the table out front were somewhat surprised to find 8 or 9 guys show up at once. After a brief explanation of our mission, we made our way inside to discover that one of the three men, Johnny, followed us in and was the owner. We had them prepare a few beef sandwiches and a breaded steak, of course. The steak is pan-fried to order from choice rib-eye. It was sauced with a nice marinara that was head and shoulders above Freddy's, which was light-years ahead of Rico's. The beef was tender and perfectly cooked. It didn't have the heft of seasoning of some other vaunted beef stands, but it held it's own in straight-up beef taste. It was a good sandwich, the best in Bridgeport by my experience, with a beefy gravy and chewy bread. I washed mine down with a $1 Filbert's Cream Soda.

    Johnny watched us closely as we ate. He was friendly and genuinely interested in what we thought of his food. We liked it, maybe not quite as much as he wanted us to, but we really did. The meat is tender and tasty and it's definitely lends credence to checking out their weekday specials. He cares about the food that he serves. Johnny deserves a ton of credit and repeat business for maintaining a little slice of Chicago history: A corner deli, formerly a butcher (check out the meat-hooks still hanging and the vintage coolers on the back wall) serving a beautiful, historic residential neighborhood. Next time I'm down there, I'm heading to Uncle Johnny's.

    If this beef-and-breaded-steak-a-thon occurred in bad weather, it would have been a totally different day. Eating and wandering through Tri-Taylor and Bridgeport with a group of LTHers, pontificating about a baseball game that the rest of the city was watching, was fantastic. In spite of the mostly mediocre food, it was a great day.

    I almost forgot about Donald's, the self-proclaimed "best beef in Chicago". It isn't. Forget about Donald's.

    Finally, some pictures from Uncle Johnny's, the only true discovery of the day:

    My drink awaits the beef
    Image

    Uncle Johnny's Beef, the best of Bridgeport
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    G Wiv prepares his notes
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    VI supervises the preparation of the breaded steak
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    Uncle Johnny's low-tech, but effective, signage
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    Johnny, as he watched us eat (lens slightly smeared by grease)
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    Best,
    Michael / EC

    Damenzo's - 2324 W Taylor
    Lulu's - 1000 S Leavitt
    Donald's - 2325 S Western
    Ricobene's 252 W 26th
    Freddie's 701 W 31st Street (31st & Union)
    Uncle Johnny's 500 W 32nd
  • Post #7 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:29 pm
    Post #7 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:29 pm Post #7 - May 22nd, 2005, 9:29 pm
    eatchicago wrote:Damenzo's had some decent fries, and a beef that needed tons of their rich gravy and giardiniera to survive.


    EC, thanks for reminding me of those fries, which I personally thought better than decent -- in fact, I thought they were probably some of the best fries I have had at an Italian beef joint. They were fresh-cut (not frozen, which is the case at 99% of places) and well-cooked (it was still early, and the oil was still more or less fresh). I gave these fries the highest score of any other menu item I tried yesterday.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #8 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:08 pm
    Post #8 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:08 pm Post #8 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:08 pm
    eatchicago wrote: We liked it, maybe not quite as much as he wanted us to, but we really did.


    Great line in a great post.

    My thoughts very much mirror yours. Regardless of the beefs, trapaising thru Tri-Taylor and Bridgeport on a lovely Spring afternoon, was a hella way to spend a Saturday. I know there are great swathes of Halsted under construction, I have a feeling the times they are a-changin' in Bridgeport, but we caught them yesterday when Bridgeport was still Bridgeport. I got the feeling we are really gonna relish that in a few years.

    But not for the food...

    For those who can make the ever changing date, weekday Beefathon, I very much plan on stopping by Uncle Johnny's for one of their daily specials--highly popular with city workers I was told.

    Rob

    PS

    Inspired by the Filberts at Uncle Johnny's, Flip, Dickson and I stopped by the Filbert's factory on the way home. As usual, we got the tour. The case of pop has gone up a buck, to $9, but it is still a bargain. Not all the chow around that area is bad. 8)
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #9 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:15 pm
    Post #9 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:15 pm Post #9 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:15 pm
    So, no one mentioned the beef at Donald's, other than to make the blanket condemnation of all the places visited. I thought the beef I hadduring a very busy weekday lunch rush was servicable, at least. How about the giardinaire? What was Donald's like on a weekend?
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #10 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:20 pm
    Post #10 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:20 pm Post #10 - May 22nd, 2005, 10:20 pm
    stevez wrote:So, no one mentioned the beef at Donald's, other than to make the blanket condemnation of all the places visited. I thought the beef I hadduring a very busy weekday lunch rush was servicable, at least. How about the giardinaire? What was Donald's like on a weekend?


    I mentioned it, briefly.

    eatchicago wrote:I almost forgot about Donald's, the self-proclaimed "best beef in Chicago". It isn't. Forget about Donald's.


    "Serviceble" is a pretty good description. Nothing to make a trip for, and frankly, it blends in with Lulu's and Damenzo's in my memory. Three beefs that do the job with little flourish, nothing really to speak of.

    Best,
    Michael / EC
  • Post #11 - May 22nd, 2005, 11:02 pm
    Post #11 - May 22nd, 2005, 11:02 pm Post #11 - May 22nd, 2005, 11:02 pm
    So, no one mentioned the beef at Donald's, other than to make the blanket condemnation of all the places visited. I thought the beef I had during a very busy weekday lunch rush was servicable, at least. How about the giardinaire? What was Donald's like on a weekend?


    One of many things I have learned during the Beefathons is that garnish might really be everything. By which I mean that giardinera, good giardinera, can make almost any sandwich pretty serviceable (the exception being the overcooked disaster at Ricobenes, or perhaps Lulu's where standard procedure seems to be to dose everything with seasoned salt, probably Lawry's, just before serving it - okay, not every sandwich).

    A few of these sandwiches would probably be quite serviceable and might even be pretty good when dosed with good giardinera. Add the good fries at some of them and it could be a good lunch. This could either mean that the whole process of the Beefathon is flawed since we are not really tasting the sandwiches as we would normally eat them (Rob's theory). Or it could mean that most beef sandwichs are just made up trollops in a dark bar - any beauty is artifice on top of a rotten and unappealing core, if we just look at them soberly in the light of day.

    Anyway, Donald's was moderately busy, and a pleasant place. We ate outside because the tables worked and it was such a pretty day.

    I will work on the ratings next week. But Uncle Johnny's is a keeper, though probably not a beef finalist. Pretty good, but not great, beef. Clean, beefy, taste. Excellent preparation (we watched it), and he does seem to use a higher grade (choice) of beef than any other place we visited. Lastly, the price was pretty low, under $4 for a sandwich. You could do a lot worse.

    Not only did we hit Filbert's for some pop, but we also stopped by Freddy's Pizza. But the real indication of how bad the Beef portion went, is that we embarked on this steak sandwich tasting at the last 3 places.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #12 - May 23rd, 2005, 9:00 am
    Post #12 - May 23rd, 2005, 9:00 am Post #12 - May 23rd, 2005, 9:00 am
    LTH,

    Beef-A-Thon IV was the perfect excuse to spend the day with LTHers, not that I need an excuse, and, coincidentally, the perfect day to have five poor excuses for Italian Beef :evil: and one quite good.

    Thanks to George R and Dickson the logistics went smooth as silk, maps and score sheets were provided, sharp cutting knives brought along, everything well planed and orderly. Only thing George and Dickson could not plan for was the actual beef sandwiches themselves, which, as has been said, with one exception, were not very good at all.

    Our first stop was Damenzo's where, while the beef was in the I'll eat if hungry range, set a somewhat negative tone for day.

    Damenzo's Italian Beef
    Image

    Damenzo's Fries were quite good,
    Image

    but easily eclipsed by the Taralli from Masi Bakery Amata kindly brought.

    Masi Taralli
    Image

    Coincidentally, Frank Masi was crossing the street just as we arrived at Damenzo's.
    Image

    Lu-Lu's Italian Beef was in the same category as Damenzo's, serviceable.
    Image

    Fries, the middle rung of the preformed category.
    Image

    Giardiniera was ok, sweet peppers, not good, beef gravy, bad, as in salty over the top Knor's straight from the jar bad.

    Lu-Lu's has two redeeming characteristics, it's across the street from Ferrarra and a very cool wall mural.
    Image

    Hammond called an audible on the walk back to our cars and we stopped in Ferrara Bakery for a coffee. Ok, not just a coffee, but a cookie or two for Lucantonio.
    Image

    and, my favorite, Sfogliatella.
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    Donald's proclaims itself Best Beef In Chicago
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    I disagree.
    Image

    Though Donald's does have the coolest Gyro Cutter I've ever seen.
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    EatChicago poping a Pepcid AC, with Roy looking on, pretty much sums up the day to this point.
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    Ricobene's is a large space with Mangiano's on a budget decor, but I can see the overall package appealing to the quick lunch crowd or people trying to appease large groups or small children. When I say appealing, I mean appealing in the same way Olive Garden does a land office business every day of the year.

    Ricobene's Beef was not good, though I did very much like their version of giardiniera, which seemed to be simply jalapeno's steamed and sliced.
    Image

    The breaded steak sandwich was, as Erik M mentioned, not good. The tomato sauce sweet, steak tough....feh.
    Image

    Riobene's one plus, aside from spacious, clean rest rooms, was it's cool parking lot under the expressway.
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    Freddie's Italian beef was huge, though we did order the large. Beef was ok, on the bland side.
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    Breaded steak sandwich a major improvement over Ricobene's, but still nothing I ever want to have again.
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    Gravy and giardiniera were good.
    Image

    Freddie's fries, ~shrug~
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    Italian Ice did it's job perfectly, refreshed our beaten down palates and provided a nice pick-me-up.
    Image

    Uncle Johnny's was a breath of fresh air in our day long search. Not only was Johnny personable, but he actually gave a damn about what he was doing.
    Image

    Uncle Johnny's Best Italian Beef of the Day
    Image

    Giardiniera was very good.
    Image

    Breaded steak sandwich was worlds better than the first two, but I am simply not a fan of this type of sandwich.
    Image

    Uncle Johnny's is a cool-as-hell old-fashion, step out of time corner grocery. Everything from canned goods, to penny candy to a few of John, the owners, Elvis photos.

    Looking forward to Beef-A-Thon V.

    Additional pictures may be found Here.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:05 am
    Post #13 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:05 am Post #13 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:05 am
    G Wiv wrote:Hammond called an audible on the walk back to our cars and we stopped in Ferrara Bakery for a coffee. Ok, not just a coffee, but a cookie or two for Lucantonio.
    Image


    Our poor child: he thinks it's normal to have a picture taken of his food before he eats it...

    I very much enjoyed hanging out with the beef guys on your first two stops. You really have it down to a science! Too bad the sandwiches were mostly disappointing. It was especially nice to meet more LTHers and to see Flip again on one of his infrequent trips into the city. :)

    Amata
  • Post #14 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:25 am
    Post #14 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:25 am Post #14 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:25 am
    Amata wrote:Our poor child: he thinks it's normal to have a picture taken of his food before he eats it...


    :lol: :lol:

    For the sake of being a downer, I have to offer that the sfogliatella were not nearly as good as they have been/can be. Unfortunately, they packed away the unsold product from the day before into the fridge, and that event really took a lot out of the product.

    As with Palermo on Harlem, there seems to be a wild unpredicatableness to Southern Italian pastries found in Chicago.

    OK, as long as I'm "speaking for the record", I'll make the lone and wierd vote in favor of Ricobenes breaded steak. Sure it was tough, but is not that almost the point. I just enjoy the texture and flavor of that damn (!) thing, and I prefer Ricobene's sauce to the other two--I actually thought Uncle Johnnie's sauce was a bit too bright, a little too dominant with the canned tomato IMHO.

    As Dickson mentioned above, I am really starting to wonder, as the tastings go very much downhill, if it is our methodology as much as anything. Essentially, I say that the actual product is the beef + the gravy (i.e., dipped) + plus the giardinara, and when we eat them divorced from each other, we are essentially eating raw materials. Put it this way, ever eat a plain steamed Vienna hot dog? Even the best do not taste that good. All of that junk, the mustard, relish, etc., conform with the sausage to make something that tastes really good. I think it is the same here. I say we go back to ordering a dipped sammy at a minimum.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #15 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:27 am
    Post #15 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:27 am Post #15 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:27 am
    Amata wrote:It was especially nice to meet more LTHers and to see Flip again on one of his infrequent trips into the city. :)

    Amata


    :oops: :lol: 8)
    "Beer is proof God loves us, and wants us to be Happy"
    -Ben Franklin-
  • Post #16 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:33 am
    Post #16 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:33 am Post #16 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:33 am
    Hi,

    If I understood correctly, are you eating and evaluating the components rather than the whole sandwich? Isn't something like an Italian Beef where the whole is better than its parts?

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but that's what I just took from Rob's post.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #17 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:41 am
    Post #17 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:41 am Post #17 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:41 am
    Cathy2 wrote:Hi,

    If I understood correctly, are you eating and evaluating the components rather than the whole sandwich? Isn't something like an Italian Beef where the whole is better than its parts?

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but that's what I just took from Rob's post.

    Regards,


    It so happened that when sandwiches arrived at the table, just about everyone ate a piece, but sometimes people used the giardinera and sweet peppers, sometimes not, and sometimes people ate these "condiments" separately.

    I agree that a more wholistic approach makes more sense.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #18 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:54 am
    Post #18 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:54 am Post #18 - May 23rd, 2005, 11:54 am
    David Hammond wrote:
    It so happened that when sandwiches arrived at the table, just about everyone ate a piece, but sometimes people used the giardinera and sweet peppers, sometimes not, and sometimes people ate these "condiments" separately.

    I agree that a more wholistic approach makes more sense.

    Hammond


    I tried that. Improvising so to speak, but I found that it did not really work. I think there has to be some time for the gravy and giardinara to properly meld with the beef. A brief dip just does not cut it.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #19 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:00 pm
    Post #19 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:00 pm Post #19 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:00 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:If I understood correctly, are you eating and evaluating the components rather than the whole sandwich? Isn't something like an Italian Beef where the whole is better than its parts?

    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but that's what I just took from Rob's post.


    This is the challenge of the beefathon. Of course it makes the most sense to judge the whole sandwich, and I personally make every attempt to do so. I try to get a section of a sandwich with plenty of gravy and giardiniera and eat that first. It makes quite a mess, but I press on.

    When we surgically (well, maybe not surgically) divide up the sandwiches, there's a fair bit of left over bread and meat laying around. After my first bite of my mini-sandwich I generally grab some scraps and dunk them into the gravy.

    The scoring sheets dickson provided ask not only for a review of the sandwich but for individual components as well. We often find ourselves with a spoonful of gravy or peppers to help judge the elements of the end product. But in general, I think most people make every effort to eat a portion of a sandwich on its own.

    On a side note, I am of the camp that the IB sandwich is not more than the sum of its parts. I think bad components equal a bad sandwich. I think one bad component will drag the whole sandwich down a peg or two.

    Some people thought Damenzo's, while substandard in certain aspects, was lifted into good balance when put together as a whole. I tended to disagree. In my humble experience eating beef, I think the best balanced beef comes from very good components across the board. Max's from the last beefathon illustrated this for me: a darn good sandwich that came from a darn good set of components.

    Best,
    Michael / EC
  • Post #20 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:27 pm
    Post #20 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:27 pm Post #20 - May 23rd, 2005, 12:27 pm
    As I understand it the intent is to have the sandwich prepared in whatever fashion the establishment would normally prepare it absent any specific customer direction. I have a feeling that when we order gravy on the side that some order-takers might assume that is an indication we are asking for it "dry" and then don't dip the sammy - even though that might be their normal method. I agree that a quick dip of a bite-sized sandwich into a plastic cup of gravy is not the same thing as what a "dipped" sandwich ends up being.

    I enjoyed the day. The weather was great, the company better, and driving/walking through the neighborhood was a lot of fun. The beefs were, for the most part, forgettable to pedestrian (the latter being the high end). The side breaded-steak-a-thon that began at Ricobene's was entertaining. Rob, I don't see how you can enjoy Rico's steak - I had 2 bites (because I had to be sure the 1st bite wasn't a fluke) before walking to the trash to throw away the rest of what I'd grabbed. And I say that as somebody who used to eat them.

    The steak at Freddy's was much better but for $7.99 it should wash my car, too. The Italian ices there were a real treat, as was sitting at the sidewalk table and observing the crowd. A little extra treat was the brief reminder of the Cubs-Sox rivalry when the double-parked police officer mentioned something to a young child wearing a Mark Prior (Cubs) jersey that provoked an angry response from some adult (presumed parent) that culminated with the always popular (to cops) phrase "you're a disgrace to the badge". Oh yeah, the beef. I found the beef at Freddy's to be in the pedestrian class. I'll admit that we may not have ordered it in a fashion that allowed for the best judging as the kingsize or whatever it was was just a whole mess-o-beef overwhelming the poor roll.

    The final stop of the day at Uncle Johnny's was the best. It began with conversations with the gentlemen seated outside, one of which ended up being the proprietor. Once inside we saw a real throwback, the neighborhood corner store with real stuff that you want/need and not just display racks of Cheetos and Slim Jim's. In this day of $2 plastic bottles of Pepsi here we found $1 (glass) bottles of all manner of Filbert's soda (I had a strawberry). The beef here was tender and it was the first roll of the day that didn't disentegrate after the first bite (despite having been cut into 1/4's, a process that I believe hurts the ability of the bread to survive). The owner indicated that he used to use Gonella but they told him that their rolls were not well suited for beef sandwiches so he switched (though I forget to what). As Dickson noted the beef could be more seasoned but I felt that when properly combined with the peppers and gravy it was still a very good sandwich. Best in the city? No, but best in Bridgeport. I'd certainly stop again.
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #21 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:01 pm
    Post #21 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:01 pm Post #21 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:01 pm
    Sounds like a terrible eating day. Not to monday morning quarterback, but you should have gone to la milenase (sp?) on 32d and May in B-port for the steak, way better than the Tribune on a roll(ricobene's).
  • Post #22 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:03 pm
    Post #22 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:03 pm Post #22 - May 23rd, 2005, 2:03 pm
    babaluch wrote:Sounds like a terrible eating day. Not to monday morning quarterback, but you should have gone to la milenase (sp?) on 32d and May in B-port for the steak, way better than the Tribune on a roll(ricobene's).


    What with La Milanese being closed on Saturdays and all it probably wouldn't have been terribly filling. :lol:

    Vital is trying to organize a weekday beef-a-thon so that places like La Milanese and Bombacigno's can get into the sample mix. I think he's finally settled on a date . . . again. Since it's Wednesday I'm out as my employer thinks I have better things to do with my time on Wednesdays than eat. :cry:
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #23 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:23 pm
    Post #23 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:23 pm Post #23 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:23 pm
    Kman wrote:The owner indicated that he used to use Gonella but they told him that their rolls were not well suited for beef sandwiches so he switched (though I forget to what).

    Kman,

    Uncle Johnny said the bread was from Michael's, which used to be Calabrese, on Manhiem Road.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #24 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:26 pm
    Post #24 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:26 pm Post #24 - May 23rd, 2005, 3:26 pm
    Vital Information wrote:For the sake of being a downer, I have to offer that the sfogliatella were not nearly as good as they have been/can be.

    Rob,

    I am strangely comforted by the fact you enjoyed Ricobene's breaded steak, I did not and I enjoyed Ferrara's Sfogliatella and you did not.
    :)

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #25 - May 30th, 2005, 3:02 pm
    Post #25 - May 30th, 2005, 3:02 pm Post #25 - May 30th, 2005, 3:02 pm
    Will try to finish the scores by tomorrow. Just need to work up averages and post with notes.

    Just to explain the methodology:

    No, we are not eating a full sandwich as we would regularly eat it at each stop. for obvious reasons that would not be practical (too much to eat, and we would not be tasting the same sandwiches).

    We are also not going back more than one, which would be necessary to get a real sample. I have gone back to a few of the places on my own to re-sample (Johnny's, Chickies and Al's) and found my experience when revisiting and having an entire sandwich to be pretty consistent with my initial experience during the tasting.

    My point was really that giardinera is a dominant, and very pleasant flavor for me. Adding it to a beef sandwich will obscure most flavor defects, IMO.

    We have revised our process to ask for sandwiches one way, as the place normally prepares them, so it is their choice. I cannot say whether some places are confused by this request combined with a request for gravy on the side, though it seems plausible.

    I agree with EC that a great Italian Beef sandwich should be the coming together of great components. Anyway, I think that is the case for almost all the best places. However, Al's was the big exception to this rule for me, as I do not much like their gravy and beef by themselves, but found an entire sandwich came together quite well.

    When I evaluate food, I do try to evaluate the ingredients, as well as the totality. The only important thing is the totality, or deliciousness, of course. But by evaluating the components, I believe the results might be of more use to people who like their sandwiches prepared in different ways. It also helps me to better understand what makes a very good sandwich, and what does not. So it has added to my understanding of IB.

    But, I am open to other ideas, and methods. So if someone thinks there is a better way, please suggest it. Having said that, I have found the results of the Beefathons to be useful to me, both in choosing which Beef to have, as well as to refine my appreciation of IB. I do hope others find it useful, as well, though I would settle for it being an enjoyable LTH outing. :D
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #26 - May 30th, 2005, 5:28 pm
    Post #26 - May 30th, 2005, 5:28 pm Post #26 - May 30th, 2005, 5:28 pm
    I too found the real pleasure of the day was in the company. Even when chewing on a breaded steak sandwich which seemed to be made from industrial carpeting it was still a fun event. :? :mrgreen:

    A few minor comments:

    Donald's self-proclamaion of greatness reminds me of a cartoon I saw many years ago. It showed a large food joint with a big sign that said "Best hamburgers in the city." Near it was an even bigger place with a huge sign that said "Best hamburgers in the country." Finally, there was a small place with it's owner standing outside (perhaps a predecessor of Uncle Johnny) who had a small sign modestly announcing that he had the "Best hamburgers on this block."

    Electric gyros cutter -- today I saw/heard another at Woodfire in Deerfield. It must be a commercial product if such disparate places have it. I haven't tried Woodfire's gyros, so can't comment on it -- I usually go for their chicken.

    Uncle Johnny's atmosphere is great. I particularly liked the ancient coolers with their wood and glass doors.

    At Uncle Johnny's I noticed a hand-lettered sign which said prosciutto $6.99/lb. I became distracted by beef sandwiches and forgot to pick some up. Did anyone else? Given the nature of the place it's certainly worth a try.

    Woodfire Chicken
    360 Lake Cook Rd
    Deerfield, IL 60015
    (847) 940-9300
    Where there’s smoke, there may be salmon.
  • Post #27 - May 30th, 2005, 5:33 pm
    Post #27 - May 30th, 2005, 5:33 pm Post #27 - May 30th, 2005, 5:33 pm
    Regarding the Gyro slicer, it's a product from Bettcher named "The Whizard (sic) Power Knife".

    Check it out here
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #28 - May 30th, 2005, 8:55 pm
    Post #28 - May 30th, 2005, 8:55 pm Post #28 - May 30th, 2005, 8:55 pm
    The scores - let's start with a link to previous reports http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=20234#20234.

    With that context, let's look at the uninspiring results from this tasting. We all know the results, really - there was one keeper, Uncle Johnny's, and not so much because of the beef, which wasn't bad, but also was not up to the best. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

    Scores are out of a maximum of 10. The detailed comments are summarized from the notes on the scoresheets, and are not my opinions (though I agree with most of them).

    The best fries were Damenzo's at 7.7 - medium sized, hand cut, skin on, medium crispy, nicely done. Followed very closely (!) by Ricobene's at 7.6. They were pretty similar, but not quite as crisp as Damenzo's. Arguably these were the best or near to it of the fries we have had on the Beefathons. So if fries are your thing, these are some very good ones. All the other places came in below 5, except Uncle J's, which does not serve fries.

    It was also a singular outing for sweet peppers, at both extremes. Donald's was great, with a 7.2 - these were more like roasted peppers in oil with a touch of salt, than the normal denatured, steamed, pepper mess we get at most places. The praise was muted in some respects "tastes like a pepper," but our expectations here are not so high. Ricobene's was again pretty good at at 6.9. This was more of a steamed pepper, but not overcooked as with most. Notably, Freddies got a 1, which is a new low for any category. Damenzo's and Uncle Johnny's were passable at 5.8 and 5.5 respectively, and Lulu's got a 4.1. But only the first two were really edible. Good sweet peppers are quite rare, as has been frequently noted.

    It was only a mediocre outing for giardinera. Damenzo's was pretty good at 7.4, with a mix of vegies, a little vinegar bite, and moderate heat in it. Everyone else came in right around 6. As Gary noted Ricobene's was notable for a different style of giardinera, more steamed jalapenos than anything else.

    For atmosphere, the place we would most like to hang out is Uncle Johnny's, with a score of 8.7. The friendly host, street corner picnic tables, and old-school store were a big hit. For the beef tasters, I think it is safe to say that this place is our ideal beef stand, a classic.

    Lulu's with the graffiti mural and faux 50's retro interior has a certain charm, and was ranked 6.9. Lulu's is probably worth checking out just for that mural. Damenzo's has a nice back room & some good old Chicago pix, earning a 6.4.

    Freddie's had a great street corner scene, with lots of people stopping by, asking what we were doing and giving us their opinions and tips. Best social scene by far, but the interior had no charm, and smelled of disinfectant. The street corner stand was next to dumpsters, so it only scored a 5. Ricobene's was very slick, if you like that, in an old timey way, and got a 5.1 (with scores ranging from 0 to 8.5). Donald's is just a basic stand, with a 5.8.
    Last edited by dicksond on May 30th, 2005, 10:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #29 - May 30th, 2005, 10:18 pm
    Post #29 - May 30th, 2005, 10:18 pm Post #29 - May 30th, 2005, 10:18 pm
    Part 2 - the sammies

    This part is sort of weird. Most of the places had a few good parts to their sandwiches, but at least one part that was, how do I say this? Godawful, I think. And that wrecked the whole thing.

    Uncle Johnny's had the best beef, rating a 7.2. Fresh roasted beef, just dipped in gravy for your order. Fresh taste, but a touch too lightly seasoned. Perhaps it needs to spend a little more time in the gravy to be a really excellent sandwich, or be seasoned a touch more aggressively during the roasting process? There is a big drop from there to Lulu's at 6.1, and then Freddie's at 5.7. Just not that much flavor in any of them. Donald's had Lawry's seasoned salt for its flavor. And Ricobenes was just overcooked and leathery.

    For bread, it was Uncle Johnny's with a nice fresh roll, and a 6.5. Freddies was lost and soggy in the mass of beef, and got the lowest score at 4.2. The rest were regular, okay, rolls scoring between 5.5 and 5.9.

    Freddies had the best gravy, flavorful with herbs and beef taste, minimal grease, getting a 6.9. Ricobenes also had good, herby flavorful gravy and got a 6.5. Uncle Johnny's and Damenzo's also had pretty good, flavorful gravy getting 6.2 & 6.1 respectively. Donald's was undistinguished with a 5, and Lulu's was awful, getting a 3.6.

    Then it all comes together in the sandwich. Uncle Johnny's ranked first, by far with a 7.3 rating. That puts it just a hair below the top 5, and certainly in the top 10 we have sampled so far. My suspicion is that this was more than slightly influenced by how much we liked the place, but it also should be noted that all of the components (except the sweet peppers) ranked 6 or better, and the scores were remarkably consistent. and their was a kind of craftsmanship, as opposed to the assembly line aspect of almost every other place we have sampled, that shone through in their food.

    Then the rest of the bunch is really not worth trying. Freddies gets a 5.7 - it would be good if the beef had a little flavor. And the bread get a low score, but since we ordered this jumbo, overstuffed beef pile, this score may not be fair. So I will probably go back and re-sample to be fair, but I am not that optimistic.

    Lulu's is a 5.4 and could be much better if they did something about their terrible gravy. Donald's got a 5.3, torpedoed by their heavy use of Seasoned Salt. Damenzo's got a 4.9, which seems strange given that every component part ranked higher than that. But, as a whole, it was just blah. And then there was Ricobenes with a 4.2 - awful beef, awful sammy.

    So there you have it, Beefathon IV, and six more places sampled. Thanks to Uncle Johnny's and my fellow tasters for making a grim outing enjoyable.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #30 - April 21st, 2007, 9:00 am
    Post #30 - April 21st, 2007, 9:00 am Post #30 - April 21st, 2007, 9:00 am
    G Wiv wrote:Freddie's Breaded Steak Sandwich
    Image

    LTH,

    I was on the phone with someone contemplating a visit to Freddie's for a breaded steak sandwich. My description was such, "Picture 1970's shag carpet.....now picture the same carpet 7-years later in a house with 4-kids and 2-dogs. Cut out a square, drown in acidic tomato sauce, slap it on a Gonnella roll and there you go."

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    Freddie's
    701 W 31st St
    Chicago, IL 60616
    312-808-0147
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow

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