Master of ceremonies Kurt Magnuski
Every year I am fortunate enough to get an opportunity to go to some of Chicago’s most exciting events. Yes, I’m talking about Italian Beef Crawl presented by the Italian Beef Forum!! Three years ago, Kurt and his brother Damon decided to get people together for the purposes of sampling some of Chicago’s best Italian beefs and having a good time. Three years later, we embarked on the 4th annual Italian Beef Crawl with friends, t-shirts, beer, and yellow school bus.
What is the Italian Beef Crawl? In a nutshell, we go out and try four Italian Beef restaurants. Last year we tried Tore’s, Michael’s, Johnnie’s, and Boston’s – every year the beef locations rotate and every year we go out to try new beef!
#Italian Beef Crawl Stop #1 – Cody’s Public House (12:26PM)
We met up at Cody’s right as it opened and headed out to the massive beer garden in the back. There’s nothing like a sunny day out with friends that you haven’t seen in awhile along with folks that you saw last week. There must have been a giant birthday celebration the night before since there were lanterns everywhere and decorations. People greeted each other and there were more than one person yelling, “Happy Beef Day!” We paid our $50 and t-shirts were distributed with cows on them with 2010’s beef quote: “This beef is f#@%$n golden!!” – Blago. Everyone picked a beef partner as there were many ways to receive your beef:
1) Wet and Hot – These Italian beef sandwiches are served with spicy giardiniera peppers with the sandwich lightly dipped in the beef juices.
2) Sweet and Wet – Sandwiches are slightly dipped in the gravy and then served with more mild giardiniera peppers
3) Dry Hot or Wet – I don’t know why anyone would get their beef without the juice, but some people don’t like extra grease. Dry sandwiches were definitely in the minority.
The beef teams were made and dart throwing and drinking ensued. Coming from watching Premiership games at 6:30am in the morning, I was a bit worn out and we soon marched into the bus and gave apologies to the bus driver for the mayhem that was about to ensue. I headed towards the back of the bus with the empty cooler and we headed on our way.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #2: Max’s Italian Beef (12:52PM)
We were in for some multi-generational goodness and stopped in for some Max’s. Friends who lived nearby told tales of the beef and one friend said his uncle moved to San Francisco and made sure to get a Max’s Italian Beef sandwich every time he came back to Chicago because it was his all-time favorite. We packed Max’s to the brim and I took in the scene and enjoyed the old school diner feel to the place. We got a free round of beer at Max’s since we were such big Italian beef lovers.
The Italian beef sandwiches began to roll out in swift order and there were Italian beef sandwiches everywhere! Dry beefs, wet beefs, hot beefs, sweet beefs! It was a veritable tour de beef all with the delicious beef juice flowing into the bread. The peppers were in their own pails, home made peppered laced with spice to make the beef a perfect blend of juice and heat. We spooned out the peppers from the pail and loaded up our sandwiches with them. I was impressed by the beefitude but found the meat itself slightly dry but still with more than enough room to be delicious. The juice flavor, the bread, the peppers were all in the clutch so this beef is still one of the greatest you’ll find. There are no losers in the Italian Beef Crawl!!!
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #3: Emerald Isle Bar and Grill (1:35PM)
After each beef stop, the goal was to wash off our palates so we’d approach each subsequent beef with tabula rasa. At Emerald Isle we found darts, cheap beer, pitchers, TVs with college football on and scared locals who were unaware of what this Italian Beef Crawl was all about. We grabbed pitchers and glasses and crowded the bar full of our pack of 50 beef eaters. Darts were thrown, voting sheets were tlalied, and the Emerald Isle and its patrons put up with our beef-eating hijinks. Despite losing my dart game, the day was great and getting even better as the drinks were kicking in with more new and amazing Italian beefs waiting for us to be eaten.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #4: Roma’s Italian Beef (2:52PM)
Roma’s was the only place on the Italian Beef Crawl that couldn’t fit our literal bus load of people. The rambunctiousness cranked up a notch while beef was procured. People chain smoked outside the bus and had trouble staying in the bus. The noise level went up as incoherency took over, Since Roma’s was not very fast, the bus went off to the next bar Sidekicks while we waited for our beef delivery.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #5: Sidekicks (3:09PM)
Sidekicks is one of the most versatile bars on the northwest side, on most nights you’ll find loud karaoke, people playing darts and food coming out of the walk through window of their kitchen. We arrived with the Italian Beef Crawl crew rolling 50 deep and hogging up all the space in the bar. An older fellow walked around giving free test tube shots to everyone. On the karaoke stage, someone else’s baby shower was set up with presents and balloons, but the party hadn’t started yet. Having played at Sidekicks several times for our Windy City Darters league, I felt right at home. I played more darts and lost, but didn’t mind because the beef was here!
The sandwiches arrived and we all hastily distributed the goods. All Italian beef sandwiches were wrapped with some dipped. The greasiness was pervasive and we all split up the haul from Roma’s. Biting into the sandwich, it was almost universally agreed that the hot giardiniera was just too hot! A good number of people were shaking their heads and gulping an extra sip of beer due to the beef’s heat. The meat was good and the sandwich bread wet, but the heat was just too overwhelming. We tallied up our votes and read the reviews but this dragon beef was just too spicy for me!
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #6: Jay’s Beef (5:24pm)
Once you get to Cicero Avenue, chances are you’re going to find a high quality Italian Beef sandwich in almost any place you go. There’s also a higher chance you’ll find some home made beef with homemade peppers. Some places put more carrot in their pepper, some pop in an overload of celery – at Jay’s Beef, you’ll find some jalapeno peppers in their beef!
Jalapeno peppers?! Normally, I would be against this idea but the peppers weren’t overwhelming and brought the sandwich to just about the right amount of heat – spicy enough to hit your tongue but not suck the life out of you. Also impressive about Jay’s beef was the hefty portion of meat that came with the sandwich. I was eating my sandwich thinking that I’d run out of bread before I ran out of meat. The bread was soaked to perfection and the juice was scintillating to say the least.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #7: Mitty’s Pub & Grill (5:38PM)
OK, so Mitty’s wasn’t an official Italian Beef Crawl watering hole. A few of us grew weary of the dillydallying and decided to bolt from the beef crawl right into Mitty’s Pub & Grill. The young waitress had a heavy Eastern European accent and bottles of Bud Light were $2. The TVs were all set to college football games, and everything seemed a bit out of place since the bar was full of older locals who probably came from Eastern Europe too. We minded our own business, grabbed our beers and ran out to the patio to watch the day go by.
Phones rang, text messages flew and a few minutes later we found out the bus was leaving. Leaving beer on the patio we hooked around back to the patio and reached over to grab our beer and ran back. We ran through the McDonald’s parking lot, the alley, then across Narragansett to get back to the bus. Mitty’s was cheap, affordable, and classic northwest side.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #8: Mr. Beef & Pizza (5:55PM)
Mr. Beef & Pizza was a last minute replacement since Bumpa’s declared that they ran out of beef. How do you run out of beef when we called a day ahead to say we were coming with a pack of rabid beef eaters? Two thumbs down for Bumpa’s, but we took the opportunity to visit a past winner of the Italian Beef Crawl. Inside it was red with lots of vintage pictures and decorations from yesteryear. A fellow beef eater getting Mr. Beef drive-thru asked us what we were doing and declared, “Mr. Beef, it’s the best! No one’s even close!” and drove off.
Mr. Beef & Pizza won my nod of approval as they served up pitchers and pitchers of beer. With plenty of beer, our palates were once again wiped clean for another round of beef. For clarification, at each beef restaurant we helped ourselves to half a beef sandwich apiece as four Italian Beef Sandwiches in one day might result in instant food coma and our explosions.
Packs of wrapped sandwiches came out, but there was a supernatural drip coming from the dipped sandwiches. Unwrapping the package revealed the source of the drip – perfect Italian Beef Sandwiches soaked up in beef gravy. Each bite was magical with the sourness of the pepper hitting with the spice and the savory favor of the juice. This was beef and this was my favorite beef of the day, moist, loaded with beef and peppers galore. It was a great sandwich, superlative in all aspects and worth a second half.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #9: Windsor (6:57PM)
We took the bus back after Mr. Beef & Pizza and the night was winding down, seven hours of beef later we had completed our pilgrimage through the northwest side. At Windsor, we had a few more drinks and there was one dartboard to play on. I was introduced to their massive garden patio in the back and people took out the bags and started throwing them. Most everyone was on beef overdose and there was much satisfaction from a fine afternoon of beefin’ and beerin’ it. Italian Beef Crawl 2010 was a great success, with the 2011 plan to feature the winners of years past. Who won this year’s Italian Beef Crawl? The irony is that we didn’t know and the vote sheets were left with a friend before the votes were actually tabulated.
The 2010 Winner of the Italian Beef Crawl:
This morning, the Italian Beef Crawl score sheets were found and calculated. Italian Beef Sandwiches were scored on the following criteria: Meat, juice, bread, and peppers. Votes on each aspect of the beef sandwich were rated 1, 3, or 5 with no scoring in between. And now the final results are here!
4. Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage – Spiced up and ready to go, this beef proved itself worth amongst the monsters of beef.
3. Mr. Beef & Pizza – This monstrous beef was soaked to perfection, with excellent peppers perfect for the traditional beef lovers.
2. Jay’s Beef – The jalapenos did their magic leaving a memorable impression on most people’s palates.
Finally, I present the 2010 Winner of the Italian Beef Crawl:
1. MAX’S ITALIAN BEEF- Famed and acclaimed, the home brewed peppers and soaked beef proved itself a true champion of the beef universe.
This year’s Italian Beef Crawl was exceptional as all sandwiches represented proved to be veritable champions of the beef world. There really are no losers on the Italian Beef Crawl and I’d just like to thank all of the participating restaurants and bars who accommodated our large group of beef crawlers. Thank you again!!!