If it’s fall and you’re in the know, chances are you might find yourself on an Italian Beef Crawl! Four beef venues, four bars, and a once a year chance to hunker down on some of Chicago’s juiciest beefs. This year beef eaters congregated in Union Park for the pre-beef ceremonies, paying master of ceremonies Kurt Magnuski cash and finding beef partners. The standard Chicago Italian Beef comes dipped in juice, served with healthy portions of giardiniera. Some mutants may prefer to consume their beef dry or with sweet peppers, but we will let these mythical creatures exist in the imagination and fairy tales.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #1: Hawkeye’s.
We loaded up the school bus and headed off to Hawkeye’s, a Taylor Street mainstay and the buckets of beer came rolling in. Taking up almost every seat in the dining room, we all watched college football and waited in anticipation of the first beef. There was nary a seat to be had and anyone not beef crawling in the room must have thought us a pack of hooligans. Fortunately for us, we far outnumbered everyone else.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #2: Carm’s Beef
Carm’s. Beef. Hungry, we all unwrapped our sandwiches to get the first crack at the inaugural beef. The first thing I noted was the lack of juice on this sandwich. I mean Italian Beef dipped is supposed to give you bread that’s soaked up in juice melting in your mouth with the intoxicating beef. This sandwich was inferior beef lacking this defining quality of well-dipped beef and caused many heads to shake. The one redeeming quality of this beef was the spiciness of the peppers, they didn’t have a great texture but the spice was undeniable. As for the rest of this beef, I will gladly deny eating any of it.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #3: Al’s #1 Italian Beef
One of Chicago’s most beloved beefs, Al’s carries acclaim and accolades for their version of the Chicago classic. I’ve never quite fallen in love with Al’s despite trying my hand at this beef more than once. The beef gods answered the call this round and delivered a soaking dripping beef. Unwrapping the layers upon layers of paper I was much please to discover that each subsequent layer was more and more soaked.
Al’s doesn’t have a lot of spice or kick to their house giardiniera but what it lakes in heat, it makes up in pure juicy deliciousness. This beef was soaked and the bread became one with the meat or the ideal level of sogginess. Once in awhile you’ll get bread that’s too soaked, leaving it unable to hold any beef at which point you’re left holding hunks of beef. Al’s can hold its ground, but the peppers do not stand up against the elite beefs of the city.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #4: Twisted Spoke
Climb your way up the steps to the rooftop of Twisted Spoke and help yourself to an icy cold beer on a sunny day. We spent a bit too much time at Hawkeye but it was logical given its proximity to both Carm’s and Al’s. At Twisted Spoke we had beer after beer and no one could escape gazing at the skeleton on the rotating motorcycle hanging outside the rooftop deck. The motorcycle paraphernalia was ubiquitous, with the rooftop accepted. Maximum socialization allowed me a chance to go table to table and snap up pictures of the people I knew and ignore the ones that I didn’t!
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #5: Jay’s Beef
If you know Jay’s you know that it’s about the beef. We stopped at their North Avenue shop to pick up the beef and get to the next beef landing. Here several people got stranded and we lost about a dozen people as the bus left without them!
When you open up a Jay’s there two main things to note: 1) this sandwich is stacked high with meat 2) there are jalapeno peppers on the beef. With meat stacked to the brim, this bread won’t disintegrate into shreds despite all of the juice and meat packed in the sandwich. Jalapeno hot peppers are the way to go, the spice will not knock you out but reinvigorate you for the rounds to come.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #6: Burke’s Web Pub
When escaping the Hipsterville of Wicker Park head on up to Burke’s Webb pub, the only bar in the area with Windy City Darter trophies. Located on two side streets, this dart bar features two dart boards, daily $2 beers, and a no frills atmosphere. The walls are lined with trophies and the bar sponsors some great teams. As for me, I spent my time practicing right-handed darts and firing away at the dartboard. I think I won $4 off someone who wanted to challenge.
Italian Beef Crawl Stop #7: Byron’s Hot Dogs
Byron’s, located by Lawrence and Ashland has been around as long as I can remember. The irony of this is that I’ve only set foot in there once and that was to get a burger (at a hot dog spot). Big mistake! Byron’s also serves up some of Chicago’s most delicious beefs.
Byron’s beef was awesome. Chock full of large hunks of giardiniera you could pick them up and chew them for heat and texture. This dreamy beef was soaked and flowed juices leading me to go into overdrive. When you have beef this good you really just can’t put it down. There were piles of sandwiches and beefs as almost all of the beefeaters had their fill. The impending food coma was too much to bear that I did not even make it to Happy Village as my friend from Milwaukee threw in the towel.
After all was said and done, the final tabulation of the beef scores were turned in. Beefs were rated on Bread, Meat, Peppers, Overall Taste. This year’s winner of the 2011 Italian Beef Crawl was Jay’s Beef on North Avenue! Congratulations and thank you to all bar owners and beef providers. Thank you!!!