Pepper, egg sandwich popular during Lent

February 13, 2013 2:18:47 PM PST
For Christians across Chicago, Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent. Pepper and egg sandwiches, created in Chicago during the Great Depression, are popular on Fridays.

During Lent, many people give up meat on Fridays, which has led, over the years, to a popular item in Chicago: the pepper and egg sandwich.

Nearly every Italian joint - be they deli, beef stand or sausage shop - sells a pepper and egg alternative during lent. It's as much a part of Chicago culinary lore as the hot dog. But at one Bridgeport cafe and deli, they crank out not one, but two versions of this local meatless favorite.

The neighborhood regulars know that Gio's - a tiny restaurant and deli tucked within a grocery store in Bridgeport - is a reliable place for sandwiches and pastas. But during Lent, it's also one of the best places to get a pepper and egg sandwich.

"The sandwich was created in Chicago. Was created around the 1930s, around the Great Depression," said Gio's co-owner, Ignacio Bautista.

But in a city with a large Catholic population, it was also created as a result of meatless Fridays.

"There's no meat on Fridays around Lent. So they were looking for some dishes to replace it," he said.

They begin by sauteeing red and green bell peppers in a bit of oil. Several ladlefuls of egg are added, and they essentially make an omelet. Once the eggs are cooked through, it's added to a split-open loaf of Turano French bread, served with a side of mild giardiniera..

"There is another sandwich that's been created. It's called the Sicilian pepper and egg," said Bautista.

For the Sicilian version, they add some cooked potatoes to the sauteed peppers and eggs, making this sandwich slightly heartier, and significantly starchier. But Bautista says as popular as the meat alternative is year-round, they'll do their biggest business over the next few Fridays.

"Friday is the busiest day," he said.

The pepper and egg at Gio's costs $5.75. If you're not observing Lent, they also make a typical Italian beef sandwich.

Gio's Cafe and Deli
2724 S. Lowe