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Big Willy’s Italian Beef

September 16, 2017

  • 1450 Wealthy Street SE
  • Grand Rapids, MI 49506
  • (616) 288-5824
  • Website
  • Menu

I don’t spend much time in Grand Rapids anymore since my company opened an office in Kalamazoo.  I, of course, don’t miss the drive everyday but there are some things I do miss about not going to Grand Rapids.

I miss the alone time in the car where I could just slip in my earbuds and listen to a podcast.  My phone memory is perpetually full because I know have podcasts waiting for me to find time to listen to.

I also miss finding new restaurants.  If you haven’t noticed from this blog, I like to eat out and I like to track down as many new places as possible.

One of those places I’ve missed out on is Big Willy’s Italian Beef.  I’ve gone on and on and on about my love of the classic Chicago sandwich and my quest for places up here in Michigan that try their hand and bringing the sandwich here.  I had been looking forward to getting back to Grand Rapids ever since I heard about this place opening.

Big Willy’s Italian Beef is located in Grand Rapid’s Eastown Neighborhood.  It’s right on the corner of Wealthy Street and Ethel Avenue on the Southeast Side near the Lake and Wealthy intersection.  The building had been home to the Pita House for many years.  The building has undergone some clean up and a new coat of paint on the exterior.

Parking for Big Willy’s is mostly street parking but there is a nearby municipal lot as well.  I was lucky enough to find a spot right in front on the Thursday afternoon I stopped in for lunch.

Big Willy’s is an order counter restaurant with plenty of seating inside for a large crowd.  The order counter is in the back of the space right in front of the kitchen.  One of their big claims is that they don’t have any freezers in the kitchen so all of the food is made fresh.  There’s also a Vienna Beef sign hanging in the window to kick up their “Chicago-style” authenticity.

I was never inside The Pita House, but just from the looks of things, it appears a major renovation happened when Big Willy’s moved in.  The floors are new shiny laminate and the dark color scheme from the extrior of the building is carried over inside with a lot of black and grey.  There’s a large drink cooler built in to the wall but there isn’t much in it.  Most of the drinks come out of a Coke fountain machine behind the counter.

I put in an order for an Italian beef combo and an order of fries.  Combo in this case doesn’t mean a combination meal.  In Chicago sandwich joints, a “combo” is an Italian beef sandwich with an Italian sausage.  I ordered my sandwich dipped with hot peppers and had the grilled peppers that come with the sandwich left off.  The sandwich fries cost me just under $15.

It took about five minutes or so for my number to be called.  I grabbed the bag that was already wet from the gravy and grease soaking through the double wrapped sandwich.

The fries were the first thing I dug in to when I got in the car.  The hand cut fries remind me of the fries from Al’s Beef….which is one of the big reasons I prefer going to Al’s over other sandwich places.  The fries are golden brown and crispy on the outside, but soft and flaky on the inside.  They retain some grease which helps the salt really stick to them.  They’re not the healthiest fries you’ll ever shove in your mouth, but they are dang tasty.

I had to wait until I got back to the office to even attempt the sandwich.  When I unwrapped it, I knew I had a sandwich that was going to be close to what you get in Chicago.  The bun is a flaky, layered hoagie roll with air pockets to soak up the gravy.  The meat was thinly sliced and shiny from the juice.  The giardiniera is a good mix of celery, carrots. jalapenos, olives, and cauliflower.  The sausage was perfectly charred and surrounded by a small pool of gravy and meat.  All of those flavors gelled perfectly with the grill taste of the sausage coming through the spiciness from the combination of the sausage and the peppers.  The sandwich was delicious but really could benefit from a lot more oregano being added to the au jus.  The meat was tender, the peppers, were spicy, the sausage was charred….a little more spice in the gravy and this sandwich is perfect.

My waistline is so lucky Big Willy’s Italian Beef didn’t exist when I worked in Grand Rapids.  This is as close to an authentic Chicago-style Italian beef I’ve had outside of the city in quite some time.

Big Willy's Italian Beef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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