Philly cheesesteak takes on Chicago

April 20, 2012 8:40:35 PM PDT
After years of cooking at Rockit Bar and Grill in River North, James Gottwald realized there was a niche to be filled here in Chicago: the Philly cheesesteak. He also missed the flavors from back home, so he and his wife found a space on the North Side and are now trying to expose Chicagoans to the glories of Cheesesteak.

In a city known for great sandwiches, Gottwald saw an opening. His beloved Philly cheesesteak isn't nearly as popular as the Italian beef, but he's hoping that Monti's, a new Lincoln Square cheesesteak joint named in honor of his wife, will shift that trend. Part of it means he uses high-quality beef and authentic bread.

"So I get the black angus ribeye, we're shaving that down in-house. The Amoroso rolls coming out of Philly - anybody from Philly is going to know that it's going to be an Amoroso or D'Ambrosio roll," said Gottwald.

Beef and onions are chopped and sauteed on the flat top grill, but Gottwald prefers his onions a bit more well-done.

"I like to take them a little further than what they do in Philly; sometimes they're a little crunchy. I caramelize them, adds a little sweetness to it, and it's kinda how I really enjoy it," he said.

The cheese - either sharp provolone or melted cheddar - is placed onto the bread first, then it's flipped upside down, onto the beef and onions, so it melts together. His decision not to use Velveeta, or "wit whiz" in the Philly vernacular, was a conscious one.

"It's traditional to do the Whiz on it, I don't want to offend, but I think the Wisconsin cheddar is so much better, so I just make a cheddar fondue. Very simple," said Gottwald.

Another Philly favorite is the Pork Italian. Gottwald seasons an entire loin with cayenne, oregano, pepper and garlic, then roasts it for a few hours. Once it's cooked through, he'll remove it, then slice it, and finally, cook it on the grill with slightly bitter broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, plus roasted red peppers and of course, sharp provolone.

"It's juicy enough as it is, I think with all the broccoli rabe and the vegetables and all that cheese on there. That's one of my favorite sandwiches, you never see that anywhere," he said.

Dessert is a no-brainer: fruit-flavored ice from the Philadelphia Water Ice Factory and freshly-delivered Tastykakes.

"We had to make a deal with them that we will date and send them bar inventories orders just so that we're keeping them fresh as well," he said.

Gottwald and his wife hope their labor of love is embraced in this city of Italian beef, and at the very least, the neighbors will be well-fed.

"Just a local, neighborhood joint; you see a lot, Chicago is full of all these great little gems. I just hope to be one of them one day," said Gottwald.

Monti's is not alone. There is one other well-known option in the city called Philly's Best with three locations, in the city and one in Evanston.

4757 N. Talman Avenue

Philly's Best 907 W. Belmont

2436 N. Milwaukee

769 W. Jackson

815 Emerson, Evanston