Where’s the (Italian) Beef?

Consider me a Sandwich Spotter, a bread-and-meat anorak, a man with a life list of sandwiches that needs to be polished off, an eater who considers Rick Sebak’s Sandwiches That You Will Like the Citizen Kane of food documentaries.

So, recently, after attending an event on the U Street corridor in Washington, DC, I decided to grab some take out for dinner. The obvious choice would have been Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark and, beyond that, just a damn fine purveyor of chili half-smokes. But my preference that evening was for something different, a sandwich on said life list that I had not yet encountered: a Chicago-style Italian Beef. Lucky for me, a restaurant specializing in Chicago street fare just opened on the U Street corridor, ChiDogO’s.

I must emphasize that, since I’ve never had an Italian Beef, I can’t comment on the gustatorial veracity of ChiDogO’s version, but from my research, it certainly looks like the real thing. I ordered a normal size, juicy, with hot peppers, or giardiniera:

Italian Beef from ChiDogOs

The bread was nicely dense, capturing the beef broth that was ladled over it (the “juicy” part) without becoming a soggy mess even after a trip home on the Metro. The beef itself wasn’t overly spiced or flavorful, seeming more like a vehicle for the broth and giardiniera, but there was plenty of it, thinly sliced. The best part was undoubtedly that hot pepper mix, with celery and carrots adding a great crunch to the sandwich, just oily enough to counter the broth’s umami. It’s a study in contrasts.

ChiDogO’s other main offering is, as the name might suggest, the Chicago-style hot dog, though during my visit, on a Monday night, most of the traffic seemed to be for the Italian Beef.

I’m not entirely certain that I’ll make return trips to U Street just for an Italian Beef, but I enjoyed the sandwich and wouldn’t be averse to popping in if already in the neighborhood. For $6 and some change, an Italian Beef at ChiDogO’s makes a great deal and, as Alton Brown might say, good eats.

I hope that ChiDogO’s succeeds. It’s inexpensive food done well, in a small but efficient space with friendly staff. Washington, DC, needs more culinary expatriates like ChiDogO’s and Taylor Gourmet who bring their regional fare to the city. Now if only someone from the Buffalo/Rochester region could suffer a craving for a Beef on Weck strong enough to open a restaurant here…