A friend discovered an eatery over in East Peoria had changed hands and become The Fifth Quarter Sports Bar & Pizzeria, and they had Italian Beef on the menu. We’re both Portillo’s fans struggling to find quality Italian beef sandwiches in Peoria, so we jumped on our motorcycles and took a ride out there for lunch today.
The place is a former garage converted into a bar, but it looks like they’ve made some improvements since I was last in there a few years ago. The place used to be Vertucci’s, which also claimed Chicago-style eats but fell short. Where Vertucci’s felt darker and dingier, The Fifth Quarter felt open, cleaner, and more modern. The roll-up garage door dividing the two sections is still there, but it blends in a little better.
The menu offered a good selection, but we jumped straight to the Italian beef sandwiches. They offer the traditional all-beef sandwich, of course, but they had two combos: the standard beef-and-sausage combo and one they called the “Cat Daddy,” consisting of beef and gyro meat. I’d never even thought of such a combo, much less seen one on a menu, so I ordered it with hot peppers and provolone (no mozzarella? tsk).
I should say first I don’t understand the pricing. A gyro is $5.95, but the Italian combo is $7.95. Throw on the provolone cheese and it jumps to $8.90. Okay, extra meat, price goes up, but I then expected a big sandwich and heaping helping of fries. I was kind of disappointed when the waitress served up a short sandwich and a small handful of fries.
On the plus side, the sandwich was juicy and I was pleased to see actual giardiniera instead of sport peppers. However, the pink hue of the beef and the pre-sliced gyro meat (blasphemy!) set of alarm bells. On tasting, I found the beef gravy far too salty, and the seasoning in the gyro meat overpowering. Both tasted a lot like the pre-packaged meats folks can purchase in a pinch from some Chicago stores, making MSG and/or preservatives responsible for most of the flavor. It didn’t taste bad, and boasted more flavor than some of the other alleged Italian beef in the area, but it’s still a pale imitator of Portillo’s, or even the spicier beef at Al’s.
The menu boasts Devanco Gyros, whoever they are. In Chicago restaurants it’s Kronos or nothing. If it’s not coming off the rotisserie, it’s crap. I’m going to give The Fifth Quarter the benefit of the doubt and assume some vendor came in and told them this prepackaged beef and gyro meat is what everybody else serves up in Chicago. If that is the case, I suggest the owner take a drive up to Shorewood and order the Italian combo at Portillo’s (dipped, hot & mozz) and taste the difference himself. Then, if it’s still there, there’s a good gyro joint with Kronos Gyros just a few blocks off the return trip.
I’ll give The Fifth Quarter big points for the fries, though. It looks like they run an actual potato through a slicer and drop it right in the frier, and they came out to the table crispy, not too greasy, and not over-salted. They’re the kind of fries the drive-up joints in the Chicago area serve in a brown paper bag with your Vienna Beef (don’t even bother with anything else) hot dog. Excellent.
While I may not buy their beef again, I do intend to go back. We received good service from the waitress, and if the Bud signs on the walls aren’t a lie, they show the UFC fights. I’d still like to try their burgers, and judging by the pictures, their pizza is worth trying if only because it isn’t the Butch’s frozen bullshit most area bars serve.
With luck I’ll have a new, closer, more affordable haunt to catch the fights in.