Mr. Beef on Orleans
If you read this blog only for Kalamazoo posts, you might want to turn away for a couple days. J and I took a vacation with my family to the Chicago area and I have a lot to write about…just because I want to.
Our first day in town started with J and her mom getting up to do some shopping. They let me sleep in and sleep in I did. I got up after lunchtime and the ladies still weren’t home. J called and asked if I wanted something from Panera, but I can get Panera in Kalamazoo. I wanted a beef.
J’s mom had a coupon for Al’s Beef in Oak Lawn which I really love, but I’ve been wanting to try Al’s biggest competition, Mr. Beef.
I’ve lived in the Chicago area…well, close enough, my whole life and I always thought the two big players were Al’s and Portillo’s. I never knew of Mr. Beef because they aren’t in the south suburbs and my parents hated going downtown…in fact, they still do, so I very rarely went downtown growing up. It wasn’t until I saw an episode of Food Wars on the Travel Channel. Mr. Beef won that battle and it baffled my mind. How could anything beat Al’s.
After J and her mom got back from shopping, I jumped in the car and headed downtown. It should have only been a 20 minute drive from my in-laws south suburban home, but traffic at The Circle made it close to forty. I had nothing else to do and J was taking a nap, so I really wasn’t worried how long it was taking me.
Mr. Beef on Orleans is on Orleans Street between Erie and Huron. It’s a tiny building that does not look like it should be on Zagat list. There’s an old Mr. Beef sign with a Pepsi log hanging from the front of the building. There’s a small parking lot right next to the building, but I wasn’t sure if that was for the restaurant or not. Instead of chancing it, I just parked on the street. There was plenty of parking in the area and I ended up walking less than a block.
The inside of the restaurant is exactly how a Chicago Italian beef restaurant should be. There’s a large, long order counter on side and a long shelf just about chest high on the other wall where you eat. No chairs. No tables.
The menu is on a Pepsi menu board behind the counter. Two guys greeted me as I walked in and asked what I wanted as I was walking toward the cash register. I asked for an Italian beef with hot peppers dipped, an order of fries, and a Pepsi. A third guy came out of a back kitchen and prepared the beef while the other two worked on the fries and pop. There’s no way to eat an Italian beef in the car, so I asked them not to wrap it to much so I could eat at that counter on the other wall. My bill was exactly $10.50 which has to be paid for with cash. No credit. No debit.
I grabbed my sandwich and fries and headed over to the counter to stare at all the autograph pictures from famous people who have eaten there while I ate meal.
I started with the fries because there was so many of them and they were fresh out of the fryer. They were pretty typical fast food fries, but they were very crispy and just a tad salty. I ended up eating about half before heading to the sandwich. Since they were portable, I took the second half of my fries with me to eat on the way home.
The sandwich is everything I love about Chicago. The meat was tender. The bun was soggy and flaky. The gravy had a strong peppery taste to it. It was perfect. The gravy had soaked through every inch of the bun making soggy and flavorful. The hot peppers were good, but this was one place that Al’s really beat Mr. Beef. It was good, it just wasn’t as hot or as plentiful as the competition.
I’m very happy I made the trip downtown to this Chicago legend. For those who still don’t get it, the easiest way to explain it is that the Italian beef is to Chicago what the Cheesesteak is to Philadelphia. There are always going to be people arguing about who’s is best and outsiders will never understand what the big deal. So, do I have to pick? Nah, I’m just gonna wuss out….but I do think Mr. Beef is a tad better….but Al’s peppers and fries are much, much better.