Assume the position: Al's Italian Beef in Chi-town
So, Randy and I made a pilgrimmage to Al's Italian Beef on Taylor Street last Friday. Of course I pigged out beforehand so I wasn't very hungry, but I still managed quite well. Italian beef is something that seems so specific to Chicago. I really can't imagine eating it in any other city, and I wouldn't want to.
An Italian beef blossoms before me like a late-blooming rose.
An Italian beef sandwich is basically a hoagie roll topped with thinly sliced beef that has been soaking in its own juices and other spices for a long time. You can get it topped with sweet or hot peppers; the hot are sooo good - it's a celery spice mixture and I wish I knew how to recreate it. It's also possible to get the whole sandwich dipped in the juices, or to order it with a hot Italian sausage tucked in between the slices of beef. Did you catch that last part? A sausage wrapped in beef. This is one of the many reasons why I love Chicago.
The first delectable bite.
At Al's, you eat standing up in front of a long metal counter. To keep your shirt clean, you have to assume "the position", in which you are forced to slouch your entire upper torso forward and keep your elbows raised so that the juices and grease can drain onto the paper that the sandwich was wrapped in. Their fries are limp and greasy, but real, not pre-cut. And right across the street is Mario's Italian Ice, which is a fabulous end to the Al's experience in the summer heat. Sadly, right now it's closed for winter.
Italian beef goes down surprisingly easy. I rarely feel sick - ok, maybe a teeny bit queasy, but that's all - after eating one. The woman who made our sandwiches had no teeth and lit up a cigarette right after she served us, and it all just added to the experience. What also added to the experience was seeing the Body Worlds exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry afterwards. Randy and I had made only one vow before seeing the exhibit: that we would go on empty stomachs. Ch'ya. The first thing we saw, a human body plastinated and sliced vertically, reminded me of ham slices. The rest of the bodies recalled beef jerky. But the museum's baby chick hatchery remains my favorite thing:
After four months of living in Marin, Chicago seemed refreshingly real. Don't get me wrong; I love the Bay Area for a million reasons, but Chicago is a City with a capital "C". It's gritty, dirty and cold; it has people from a million countries; it's filled with crazy drivers and chain smokers and shady dealings and brash skyscrapers. It's got the Green Mill, where the bartender was too busy trading insults with the regulars to make our drinks, and El Taco Loco, where we ate chorizo tacos at midnight that gave me heartburn.
Can't I just live in two places at once?