Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri.
You know it’s a bad sign when you ask a local “Where can I get a good Italian beef sandwich?” and they reply “You mean like an Arby’s?”
After I sent flowers to that guy’s funeral, the Wife and I vowed to find a place that sold proper beef sandwiches, Vienna Beef hot dogs and Kronos gyros. We don’t eat them frequently, but every so often you have to satisfy a craving and Portillo’s is just too far away.
There were several places touting their gyros, sure, but there’s a simple test: if they don’t have the shank on the spit, turn around and get the hell out of there. There’s nothing so disappointing as ordering a gyro, only to have some lip ring-wearing piece of human filth hand you a few strips of pre-sliced meat warmed in the microwave and wrapped in a limp pita slathered with dog snot. Sometimes it’s worth a shot at a sit-down family restaurant. If you’re really lucky, the guy who owns the place is Greek (that’s common around here, anyway), and the meat is actually cooked up on the grill. It’s probably even spiced the right way, even if it does turn out a bit dry in the end.
By the same token, none of the hot dog joints had the familiar Vienna Beef logo hanging on the wall. There are passable dogs, of course. A good restauranteur knows Oscar Meier just isn’t going to cut it. Even worse, if they serve a certain horrible brand that shall remain nameless (once served by an eatery in Wilmington, Illinois), they’ll be out of business in ten minutes. It’s a rare dog indeed that can compare to the flavor and pop of a proper Vienna dog.
Then there’s the Italian beef, the most depressing of all disappointments. I soon discovered the first man I asked about Italian beef was not the norm, for a proper examination of the menu at the local pizza place (dubbed, in fact, The Pizza Place) showed they indeed carried Italian beef. I promptly ordered one that very night.
Bah. Sliced roast beef with bland au jous, nothing more. Other menu claims came up similarly short, and I have taken to carrying a Sharpie to edit the menus of these establishments as I encounter them.
The Wife and I resigned ourselves to the fact we were strangers in a strange land. If these people can’t cook up a proper pizza (a subject for another post), how can they be expected to serve up proper Chicago-style eats? For over a year we had gyros only on the occasional visit to my in-laws’ place, and I had Italian beef even less frequently on trips to the ‘Burbs.
Then the Wife took one of her adventure trips. When she’s bored, she goes for a drive and explores yet-unseen avenues off our beaten paths. Thus it’s by chance she discovered Gracie’s Chicago Style Grille in Washington, IL, and the Kronos sign proudly hung in her front window.
We visited it for the first time last night.
Vienna Beef hot dogs? Check. Kronos gyros on a spit? Check. Italian beef? Check and double check for the presence of Italian sausage and the Italian combo. (No pizza puff, but this is more easily forgiven.) We chose to trust the Vienna Beef claims and ordered instead a gyro for the Wife and an Italian combo with hot peppers for myself. We hustled them home with as much speed as a winter storm would allow.
The gyro was exactly as advertised, and it was good.
The Italian combo… I guess we’ll call it halfway to glorious. The Italian sausage was excellent, and I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again. What’s more, they served it up on a proper bun and may have put some garlic butter on the insides.
The beef, unfortunately, was dry. There was a neat pile of it, and it was both hot and tasty, but there were no juices. Not even a spoonful.
I could have wept.
We will return to Gracie’s, I have no doubt about that. I’m sure we’ll try their hot dogs and their hamburgers, and explore the rest of the menu in time. The marinara sauce with our mozzarella sticks was good, which gives us hope for their pizza as well. When I order the combo, though, I will ask the grill man to dip it.
And if he doesn’t know what I’m talking about, I will teach him.