Friday, November 2, 2012

Post 95: Ontario Street Staples (Chicago: River North/Near North Side)

Just a few weeks ago I was in Chicago on business, so I thought I would head into the city to grab some Chi-town staples.  I only had two hours before my return flight back to LA, so I planned to hit as many places as I could in those two precious hours.  My strategy was simple... walk down Ontario Street.  From Al's #1 Italian Beef to Gino's East to the Rock n' Roll McDonald's to Portillo's... many of the well-known Chicago eateries are located down that path.  I could eat and walk... eat and walk... and make my way towards Michigan Avenue before heading to O'Hare.  I thought it was an ideal plan, but it was a plan that even my stomach couldn't handle.

During my first visit to the Windy City four years ago, many of the locals suggested that we try the Italian beef sandwich.  Well, we were too busy stuffing our faces with deep dish pizza that we never got around to trying the local favorite.  So this time I made sure to hit up Al's #1 Italian Beef first.

Knowing that I was about to embark on a marathon of eating, I originally planned to order just a small sandwich.  But go big or go home right? So when the lady at the counter asked me what size, I said LARGE... like a boss! The sandwich came wrapped in about half a dozen sheets of paper, and it was safe to say that each sheet of paper was thoroughly soaked with beef juice... delicious, delicious beef juice.  I took one bite, and I knew I was going to finish the whole thing.  It was juicy, oily, and beefy... all the things that I love.

What made the sandwich even more amazing-delicious was the addition of spicy peppers throughout the sandwich.  And I definitely appreciated the somewhat unexpected crunch from the celery slices in between layers of the beef's pillowy tenderness.  Oh, and the bread... the bread... all the nooks and crannies behind the crust had soaked up all the excess beef juice making it even softer.  Biting into the bread was like squeezing a sponge full of au jus into my mouth.  Gahhh... I may have moaned subconsciously when I took my second bite.  Either that or the way I was consuming that sandwich made the patrons at the nearby tables notice because they were definitely staring at me.  Eh, the sandwich had my full, undivided attention.  Hot damn, that Al's Italian beef sandwich was mind numbingly good.

So I wrapped up what I had just unwrapped, toss the remains in the trash, and headed back out into the chilly breeze.  Granted the temperate was probably warm by Chicago standards, but I'm a Southern California kid born and bred, so I was ready to hop back indoors from the 50 degree elements.  Good thing I was walking down Ontario Street because Portillo's was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Al's.

I had been to Portillo's Hot Dogs on my first visit to Chicagoland, so I was ready to reunite with the beloved Chicago dog that I remembered.  With mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, celery salt, spicy sport peppers, and a pickle spear, the Portillo's hot dog had burst of flavor with each bite.  It was just as I had remembered.  And although the dog was good by itself, beer made it even better... I was in heaven.

Now done with an Al's Italian beef sandwich and a Portillo's hot dog, I was ready to get up and order something from Barnelli's Pasta Bowl and then jump across the street for some deep dish from Gino's East, but as soon as I stood up, I felt everything that I had just eaten settle into the pits of my stomach.  Perhaps it was time for a digestive walk.  We'll save all that pasta for the next visit to Chi-town.

So I walked east toward Michigan Avenue.  I walked, and I walked... and it felt like I had not digested a lick of food.  I had come across Quartino, an Italian style tapas restaurant that I had dined at the night before.  I bet anyone that knows me could guess what I did next.  Yup, I plopped myself up at the bar, and before I knew it there was a platter of charcuterie and an ice cold glass of beer spread across the counter.

The post on Quartino is next.  Until then, let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20121019

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