Tag Archive for gyros

The 5th Quarter Drops the Ball on Beef

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.

Cat Daddy at 5th Quarter

The Fifth Quarter’s “Cat Daddy”

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.

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.

Almost Paradise


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.

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.