August 10, 2018

The Steaks Are High

It’s another #FoodFriday, and for all I’ve written and posted about the Chicago food classics, it just occurred to me the other day that I have yet to say anything about one of our lesser-known specialties, the breaded steak sandwich! It’s kind of like the slightly less greasy cousin of the Italian beef. Though it was developed a little more recently than the Italian beef, the steak sandwich is similar in that it was developed as a way to make the most of the cheap, low quality cuts of meat that were often the only good choices in some parts of the city.

While attribution of some of these other staples is often contested, everyone on the South Side knows that the breaded steak sandwich is the brainchild of Ricobene’s, a restaurant that’s operated for more than 70 years now on 26th Street just west of Wentworth Avenue in the Armour Square neighborhood. Other area restaurants have emulated it, but there’s nothing quite like the original! Long story short, a thin piece of flank steak is breaded, then fried. When it’s almost done cooking, you throw a big pile of cheese in the middle, along with some giardinera if you want (because nothing is ever quite Chicago enough without some pickled peppers). Finally, the whole big mess is marinated in garlic-tomato sauce before being folded over a few times and and stuck inside a big, steaming Italian bread roll. Napkin use is definitely recommended, unless you’re okay with a little red sauce on your vacation clothes!

If it sounds weird at first, that’s okay, it’s really how most people react to a lot of our traditions and specialties. It definitely takes some getting used to! But our specialty here is helping you find the quiet, local spots that give you a real Chicago experience just as much (or more) as a trip to the top of the Sears Tower (you may actually know it as, er, the Willis Tower, but that’s just my Chicago roots showing .. ), and Ricobene’s is a great way to get that experience. You can find everyone there from local kids to the neighborhood construction workers to some of the suits and ties working just up State Street downtown. To conclude, here’s another pro tip for you: they’ve got great pizza, too! And I’m not talking about deep dish—if you’re visiting and just HAVE to get a “Chicago Pizza,” head to Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s or one of the other downtown establishments. The truth is, most Chicagoans actually prefer thin crust to deep dish (and contrary to what I’ve heard that some folks who have never visited believe, when we say “let’s order pizza” around here, we’re talking about thin crust probably 95% of the time), and Ricobenes has some of the best in the city. So no matter what you’re looking for, it’s definitely a Chicago classic worth trying.

cover photo/Food Network