The Continued Quest for (Proper) Italian Beef

I think Italian beef disintegrates into nothingness after it gets a certain distance from Chicago. After several attempts, I have yet to find a place in Peoria that gets it exactly right. There are places that come close, but there’s always something off.

Case in point: Famous City Bistro. The concept of the place is simple: serve up famous sandwiches from various locales around the country. They have Philly cheesesteaks, Miami Cubans, New Orleans po’ boys, and from Chicago, the infamous Chicago-style hot dog and the illustrious Italian beef.

Famous City's Attempt at Italian Beef

Awww, man...

I’d been waiting for this place to open for a few months now. When opening day finally rolled around this past Tuesday, the rugrats and I stopped by to try it out. I immediately ordered the Italian beef, and the pic above is what I was served.

First, let me say the amount of beef in the picture is deceiving. I asked for it “wet” (the term they’re looking for is “dipped”) and most of the meat sagged through the crease in the bun. They had proper giardiniera, which you have to ask for, and the green peppers come with their recipe. No options for an Italian combo (beef and sausage) or options for mozzarella or marinara. It’s served on a soft hoagie roll instead of a hard Italian roll (which helps soak up the juices, especially when dipped) and the flavoring is not as distinct as what you get at a place like Portillo’s.

Let me be clear: it wasn’t a bad sandwich, but it’s sure not the Italian beef one can get in Chicago.

As for the rest of the place, it’s not bad. They had a kids menu, and my kids enjoyed the cheeseburger and mini corn dogs, but there are no kids’ drinks; they were served adult-size glasses they couldn’t finish. My sandwich was $6.99, and that doesn’t include any sides. The potato salad? $1 extra. At least it was good potato salad. We also ordered chili cheese fries, and the fries were good but the portion looked about half the size of what we get at places like Chili’s. The chili was okay, and probably just heated out of a can. The cheese was your standard “cancer cheese” as I call it: that faux-cheese sauce that you get on movie theater nachos or at ballparks.

The atmosphere is kind of like taking a neighborhood grill-style restaurant and cramming it into a sandwich shop. It’s small, but they have nice tables, leather seats, a full bar, and three flat-screen televisions. The waitresses wear black collared shirts and loosened ties, and your order is taken at a table like any sit-down restaurant. I’m guessing this is why the sandwich prices are higher than I expected, and I’m curious to see how this concept plays in Peoria.

I will go back and try some of the other famous sandwiches and see how they are. Will the Reuben be any good? Will the BBQ sandwiches stand up to places like Hickory River and Famous Dave’s? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the quest for proper Italian beef continues.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

4 comments

  1. Ann says:

    I am in the same hunt as you, for a Peoria area Italian Beef to rival that of Portillo’s. So far the closest I’ve found is at Cracked Pepper on Adams Street. No combo is offered but they do have mozz and hot peppers. There is another place called Meat N Place out by the Shoppes at Grand Prairie that has it on the menu but I have not tried it yet. Best of luck!

    • Mike says:

      I’ve not heard of Cracked Pepper. I’ll have to get in and try it, thanks!

      I’ve driven by Meat N Place, but usually on my motorcycle, which isn’t convenient for a drive-thru and no seating. Sometime I’ll make a point to get their drive-thru and then park somewhere and eat up. I’m skeptical given their focus seems to be catering, which to me means it’ll be somewhat generic and bland.

  2. Bob Simmons says:

    Did you ever go back and try the Reuben? It’s authentic and really good…the pastrami is great too.

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