Archive for October, 2010

#48 – The 2010 Italian Beef Crawl


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!!!

#50 – A Night on the Rocks: @RockitChicago & @undergroundchi


Do not attend Johnnie Walker whiskey tasting events – there’s no whiskey to be had!

One friend flew into town with two other friends and I had three people and one night to showcase the best of what Chicago had to offer. The night started off with some 55-day old steak at David Burke’s and then we made the critical error of attempting to attend a Johnnie Walker whiskey tasting in the middle of the warehouse district straight west on Fulton. The sparse line raised my eyebrow since we RSVP’d in advance, yet they didn’t let us check into the party since they were afraid of the party going over capacity like Foursquare these days.

I’ve been to many whiskey tastings and launch parties to know something that the organizers had no clue what they were doing. Forty-five minutes of waiting later and another twenty for a taxi, we left cold, disappointed, and certainly without any whiskey. My friend shrewdly reminded me, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

Where were we going to go? Luckily, living in Chicago all my life, my encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago led the compass to point towards Rockit and Underground. First, we’d have a sip of the action by drinking some serious cocktails, then we’d get in the club and knock ourselves out!

Rockit – Hubbard

As we cabbed back to civilization, the rain started falling from the sky. We got over to Rockit in River North and grabbed and table and started drinking everything in sight. Feeling especially bad, we dropped some Jager bombs to make up for the lost hour of waiting around for nothing. The night was getting better and I couldn’t complain.

Manny Nevar, the host of Rockit stopped by and showed us what the hospitality and nightlife industry was really about. I knew Rockit would be awesome, but it quickly upgraded itself to awesomely bad ass when me and +3 got ourselves a booth in a crowded bar with our own complimentary pool table. Out came some giant deadly cocktails and the night was going on full throttle.

Me +3 continued having a great time while Manny and me played the name game and found out we grew up with some of the same people. He made sure we were well settled in and then went to take care of business around the rest of the bar. At the other corner of the bar, I could see @BillyDec swarmed by his fans, friends and his own personal army. A short while later, @arturogomezrrp, President of Rockit Ranch Productions took the time to welcome me+3 even with plenty of people demanding his attention. After he left, I took time to teach my guests about Chicago, there were happy the bar wouldn’t close until 2am and Underground would be bumpin’ until 4 in the morning. Soon enough it was 1:30am and Manny showed up like clockwork to walk us on over to Underground.

Who put this line here?

Raining and looking at a line out the door, our host parted the line like the Red Sea and we marched right into the club. By now, everyone’s seen pictures of the Blackhawks going to town at Underground with the Stanley Cup and other friends would end up here after a hard night on the rocks. Having never been to Underground, I really didn’t know to expect, but was glad that I didn’t see the Stanley Cup since that would’ve meant another few hundred people to fight through! Underground lived up to its moniker as we walked down into the club that was stacked shoulder to shoulder with a raging Friday night crowd.

Knowing that I had three friends from California out to see Chicago, Manny and the Underground staff really did roll out the red carpet. We found ourselves in the kitchen having some mega cocktails and I never been to a club where so many people were dressed to impress. The GM of Underground was orchestrating the whole production and there was @arturogomezrrp keeping an eye on everything.

You ever see that scene out of Goodfellas where they go through the kitchen, through a long maze then out back into the club and out to a table? That’s what exactly happened thanks to @AhmedB_UG and @MannyNevar. We sat down and got down to the music while drinking up shots, cocktails, and more drinks. Manny did a stand up job and personally made sure that we were all having the time of our lives.

There were people dancing on every surface you could imagine and it’s clear why Underground is Chicago’s best – the people are good looking, the music is for dancing, and everyone has a euphoric time. It’s funny though, after a long night of drinking most people tend to get a wee bit hungry. Having tried Chef @amanda2581’s magical Kobe burger up @RockitWrigley a few weeks earlier, it was beyond awesome when some sliders arrived with the grilled cheese. The sliders are a mini-version of the Rockit Burger and melt in your mouth with every single bite.

One final note, if you have some people from out of town and want to have a ridiculously awesome time worth remembering, take my advice and roll through to Rockit and follow it up with Underground. There’s a guy down at Rockit named Manny and he’ll set you up and make sure everyone’s in a great mood. The proof is in the pudding and after getting home past 5:00am, I was three hours late to my 7:00am meeting!  Trust me – just keep an eye out for this fellow Northwestsider and he’ll take care of you and your crew!