Italian beef is a Chicago icon, but there's another sandwich making inroads here lately: the Philly cheesesteak.
There are five great spots to get a good one -- four in the city and one in the western suburbs.
At Mojo's East Coast Eats in a Downers Grove strip mall, the co-mingling of chopped onions with thinly-sliced ribeye occurs frequently in the kitchen. You've always got a few options for cheese.
"Options are cheese whiz, which is very authentic to Philadelphia, mainly South Philadelphia, and then you have White American and Provolone as well," said Mojo's owner Jon Scoggin.
Scoggin also brings in Hank's root beer and Tastykakes; hand-cutting his fries and offering cherry peppers as an option on the sandwiches, which he insists use Amoroso rolls.
"It's a lighter, spongier bread, versus Chicago is a very sort of dense bread, kind of a heavy bread," he said.
In the city, Philly Brothers uses locally-made Laborio bread and stuffs it with Halal-certified beef. Get it WIT - that means onions - and cheese options include white or yellow American, Provolone or Whiz.
Philly's Best has been around the longest - since 1989 - and now has three locations in the city, including Lake View. Everything is Philly-based here.
"I'm originally from Philadelphia, so I decided to ship the meat, cheese and the onions in from Philly," said owner Michael Markellos. "Amoroso rolls, Liberty Bell steak, our cheese is from Cedar Farms."
Herr's chips and Tastykakes round out the Philly theme, and Markellos isn't surprised the sandwich has taken off recently.
"You know why? Because it's a damn good sandwich," he said.
In Ukrainian Village, a delicious interpretation at Boeufhaus, a great neighborhood steakhouse that offers a Philly at lunchtime only. D'Amato's bread is brushed with herb butter and griddled, while Angus ribeye is sliced thin, cooked along with onions, shredded until it's thin and bite-sized. White American is the cheese of the house. Bread is set over the top, like a teepee, to steam it some more. Served with housemade chips and a pickle, it's a beefy-cheesy pleasure to eat.
Same goes for the cheesesteaks at Monti's in Lincoln Square, which is pure Philly, from the decor to the owner's recipe.
"I'm from Philly, and I just needed an authentic, real-deal one," said owner James Gottwald. "You gotta get the roll from Philly. It's something in the water, that's my theory. 99% of the cheesesteaks in Philly are served on an Amoroso."
Gottwald briefly toasts the bread, then quickly dispatches the Midwestern Black Angus beef.
Once the cheese goes on, bread is tented over the top to steam it. The entire contents are flipped over into the bread, just before serving. Gottwald says the sandwich is so good, he's not surprised it's showing up in some unlikely places.
"Even on fine-dining menus, you're seeing 'em pop up," he said.
I doubt the Philly cheesesteak is ever going to overtake the Chicago Italian beef, at least in terms of popularity anytime soon, but there's definitely a wave of interest in this sandwich, and why not? Cheese tastes great on beef, it's just up until now, you could never do that in Chicago because that would be sacrilege right?
EXTRA COURSE: At Monti's, there is another great sandwich inspired by Philly -- the "Pork Italian," which features broccoli rabe and provolone.
MOJO'S EAST COAST EATS
Extra Course: Pork Italian at Monti's
2758 Maple Ave, Downers Grove
734 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago
769 Jackson Blvd., Chicago, (312) 715-9800
2436 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago (773) 276-1900
907 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago (773) 525-7900
1012 N. Western Ave., Chicago
4757 N. Talman Ave., Chicago
13005 W. 143rd St, Homer Glen
13000 South La Grange Road, Palos Park
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