Buona – Beverly
Last time we were in the Chicago area, I had some time to myself to seek out a truly delicious Italian beef. I chose to go to the northside of town and hit up Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park. While I was researching that trip, I came across a couple other places I wanted to try including Buona.
At that time, the closest Buona was in Orland Park, but as luck would have it, my mother-in-law mentioned, in passing, that Buona opened a new store on the corner of Western Avenue and 107th in the Chicago Neighborhood of Beverly. This location is only about ten minutes from my in-laws and I wasn’t leaving town without making a stop.
After our time with my family in Cullom, we headed back to the Chicago suburbs to drop L off with J’s parents for the week. Her preschool was closed for spring break and Nana and Grandpa wanted some one-on-one time with L.
It was about dinner time when we got back to Oak Lawn. J and I did have a snack from Casey’s General Store before we left down south, but I really, really wanted an Italian beef. I asked everyone else if they wanted to give it a shot and everyone was on board.
I attempted to put my order in using the website, but after I got everything completed, it told me that it had failed and to call the store. I did that on my way to see if it somehow went through. They never got an order from me, so I asked if I could put one in over the phone while I was driving so that it would be ready when I got there. I could, so I did.
Buona claims to be the Original Italian beef. Now, Buona has only been in business since 1981 which is long after the Italian beef was invented, but what makes theirs the “original” is the recipe. The Buonavolanto who started the small Chicago chain is a relative of Carl Buonavolanto who is the original owner of Mr Beef on Orleans and one of the “Original 14.” It’s a complicated story that all goes back to the 1930’s and Scala’s Original Beef and Sausage Company. Robert Scala provided funding for Carl to open Mr. Beef which is how Mr Beef and, by way of the recipe, Buona can use the claim of “Original” in their marketing. That’s all according to their website and not independently confirmed anywhere else.
Anywho. Back to the beef.
The restaurant on the corner of 107th and Western is brand new. They have a really tight parking lot with entrances off both Western and 107th. If you’re looking for the drive thru though, you have to enter off of 107th Street.
I stopped in on Sunday of Grand Opening Weekend. The place was busy, but not jam packed. The feel of this Buona is a clean, sleek restaurant. It’s not the sandwich stands you think of when you think Chicago beef. The dining room is pretty large and very wide open. Ordering is done as you walk in with a modern POS system instead of someone writing down your order on a piece of paper and yelling it back to the kitchen. The place is and feels like a chain and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the food is good and doesn’t taste like it came from a chain.
I had already put in our order for three Italian beefs and a salad. I got two of the beef’s as a value meal (don’t say combo meal in Chicago as that has a totally different meaning at beef places. I remembered that as the words came out of my mouth. A “combo” is an Italian beef sandwich with an Italian sausage in it….delicious, but not what I wanted on this day) which come with fries and a Pepsi. My order was ready when I got there and after paying the bill, just under $40, I headed back to my in-laws to dig in.
I ordered my Italian beef as the 10″ known as the Maggiore (or “greater”) with hot peppers and “baptized.” It seems even the lingo differs from place to place with the beef and baptized just means the whole sandwich is dipped in the gravy after it’s assembled. Some places call it dipped, some call it juicy, some call it wet. Baptized is just the way Buona does it.
Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law ordered the 7″ beef dubbed Piccolo (or “little) with the juice on the side. My mother-in-law did sweet peppers on hers while father-in-law did his plain.
All three of us noticed right away just how spicy the beef is on it’s own. I had the hot peppers on mine, but the flavor of the meat still pushed through the heat of the peppers. Based on the meat alone, this is one of the more flavorful Italian beef’s I’ve had in Chicago. The giardiniera was mostly celery and jalapenos and didn’t really add much to the already spicy beef other than a little bit of crunchiness. The bread was a soggy mess….exactly the way it’s supposed to be. It was just strong enough to hang on to the meat, but was so full of that flavorful juice that I forgot I was even eating bread.
The fries were a different story than the beef. They were fine. They were simple. I really wish places would put more effort in to them. The reason Al’s Beef always turns out to be my favorite place to go is because everything is fantastic…including the fries. These fries are just fries. Nothing to write home about. I wish they were more so I could get more excited about Bunoa.
J doesn’t eat beef, but found a salad she thought sounded good. She ordered the Tuscan Harvest Salad. The salad contained mixed greens, Arugula, a Granny Smith apple, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and Gorgonzola. The dressing is a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette. J loved this salad. She was very excited about the combination of mixed greens and arugula instead of the typical handful of iceberg lettuce other places use. We order from Portillo’s a lot for lunch when we’re at J’s parents because it’s close. J said this salad from Buona blew Portillo’s away and would be happy if we ordered from Buona in the future.
Buona was delicious. The atmosphere is kind of a downer for me because I like the run-down, tiny sandwich shops were the Italian beef as we know it is born. Unfortunately, that can’t be replicated in a brand spankin’ new chain. The Italian beef is as much an experience as it is food stuff and these new restaurants lack the experience. The food, though, is in the upper echelon of Chicago food and it’s definitely a place we’ll be back to.
Buona is expanding rapidly across Chicagoland and there’s no doubt they will be giving the well established Chicago-style chain restaurants a run for their money.