Ask any Chicago transplant to list the five things they miss most about the Windy City and it’s a good bet the list will include Italian beef sandwiches, a staple in Chicago. Chicagoans grow up worshipping at the tables of Italian beef sandwich shops and are almost as passionate about this sloppy sandwich as they are Da Bears.

After my several first two experiences with Italian beef, my reaction was “okay, so what’s so great about these” then we visited Johnnie’s Italian Beef and I had an epiphany. Now my nights are (Italian) spiced with dreams of gravy running down my arms and the sounds of giardinaire crunching in my mouth. Italian beef sandwiches are an absolute “must have” during our visits to the Windy City.

Several years ago during one of our frequent sojourns to Las Vegas, we discovered Mastro’s Italian Beef a scant three miles from our Vegas residence and struck up a friendship with Mike Mastro, the affable proprietor. Mastro evinced the adage that “you can’t trust a skinny chef.” A formidable man, he shared our passion for Italian beef authenticity and crafted the very best example of that sandwich we’ve ever had outside of Chicago.

Trepidation set in when we found out that in mid-2003 Mastro sold his business and to an Indian (from India) no less. Nightmares of of Italian spices being replaced by Indian curries (wonderful in their own right, but not on Italian beef) set in. There was nothing to fear. The new proprietor would do the City of Big Shoulders (they got that way from carrying home large bags full of Italian beef sandwiches) proud. Windy City Pizza & Subs carries on in the Mike Mastro tradition.

The Italian beef sandwich is still formidable—a masterfully created, incredibly delicious sandwich scaling nearly as high as the Sears Tower with slow-roasted beef, sliced thin with natural jus with a blend of Italian spices served on a fresh-baked roll. I don’t know from what part of India the owner came, but surmise it must have been from the windy part.

A savory alternative is the oh so spicy sausage sandwich, or better yet, have a combination Italian beef and sausage sandwich with hot, spicy giardinaire. There’s just something special about thinly sliced beef and spicy sausage competing for your rapt attention then having that giardinaire sneak in to water your eyes. It’s almost a religious experience.

Equally authentic is the Chicago Hot Dog, garnished with yellow mustard, bright green relish, fresh chopped onions, juicy red tomato wedges (in Chicago, the tomatoes are often green), kosher pickle, a dash of celery salt (the not so secret ingredient which really sets Chicago dogs apart) and spicy (an understatement) sport peppers. You haven’t been to Chicago if you haven’t consumed at least one of these beauties.

While Chicago is famous for its deep dish pizza, what isn’t as commonly known is that some of the city’s pizzerias also craft a cheesy, thin-crust pizza that’s maybe not New York good, but is more than palatable. Windy City Pizza & Subs does an excellent take-out business with many patrons hefting two large boxes for a memory trip back home to Chicago.

Visit Windy City Pizza & Subs at any time and you’re likely to run into Chicago transplants relishing in Da Bears’ recent success or (until 2005) lamenting the White Sox’ recent woes. It’s like going home.

Windy City Pizza & Subs
2521 South Fort Apache
Las Vegas, NV
LATEST VISIT: 9 June 2006
COST: $$
Italian Beef Sandwich, Chicago Style Hot Dog, Italian Beef & Sausage Combo Sandwich, Pizza

By Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly six million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on more than 1,200 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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