The Leader of the Pack
The Italian sub is an underground Chicago specialty. Its perfect blend of cured Italian meats, imported cheeses, and fresh vegetables doesn’t get the press that Chicago hot dogs, deep dish pizza, and Italian beefs do. And that’s a shame. Because for me, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a constant craving for this sandwich— something that I can hardly say about our city’s other three major delicacies.
I participated in the Great Sub Crawl of 2010, and if I learned anything from the endeavor, it was this: there are a lot of places in the Chicago area that make decent, and sometimes good, subs. Although we only tried six, they were a representative cross section, carefully researched and chosen by our more than capable leader. As we travelled from city to suburb and back again, we enjoyed sandwiches with rich culinary heritage, prepared and sold in our city’s traditionally Italian neighborhoods. It was indeed a learning experience, and one I think we are all better for having had.
That being said, in my opinion, there were only two and a half places worthy of mention. They are, from worst to best:
Riviera Italian Imported Foods: Disappointingly soft bread and a heartbreakingly bad Italian sub (stop using deli ham, please!!) left a literal bad taste in my mouth. Their “Will’s Special” is a marvel of a sandwich, but was brought down by the aforementioned bread and rather rubbery homemade mozzarella. While I have it on good authority that this cheese is excellent the day it is made, I didn’t seem to enjoy this luxury. More on this sandwich later…
Bari Foods: Recent GNR, the crowd favorite, the heavyweight champion of many years, the Colossus of Clout, aaaaaand the sandwich shop that seems to have begun the “resting on its laurels” phase of its existence. Don’t get me wrong— this was my original favorite: the place that made me fall in love with the Italian sub in the first place. It is also head-and-shoulders above the other places we tried and was a welcome palate cleanser after six hours of sub sampling. However, due to their use of sometimes stale bread and inconsistently sliced meat (prosciutto ranging from see-through paper thin to unpalatable poster board thick, to name one example), Bari now plays second fiddle to…
J.P. Graziano Grocery Co., Inc.: This unassuming shop on Randolph Street, though known and loved in some circles, was the definite underdog in the sub crawl, and it was relatively unknown to our discerning panel. However, it quickly rose to the top of the heap due to impeccable ingredients, artful and well executed presentation, and the type of attention to detail that comes from years of sitting at the foot of the masters. Graziano only started selling subs about three years ago, but not before securing the blessing of nearby Bari. In this case, the student really has become the teacher. Continue reading