For years now, my Kim and I have largely eschewed American television, especially its sophomoric, lowbrow and “meant for voyeurs” reality shows. We’ve been increasingly gravitating to an almost exclusive viewership of British television which we’ve found to be meant for grown-ups rather than children. British television programs offer a sophistication direly absent in American programming. British programs tend to be more substantive, refined and of much higher quality than their American counterparts. That assessment applies to mysteries, comedies, dramas and even commercials.
The final nail in the coffin for American television were two absolutely unwatchable reality shows: The Kardashians and Jersey Shore. Both showcase obnoxious, self-aggrandizing and vacuous characters with no redeeming characteristics. The Jersey Show, for example, made celebrities of four loud, foul-mouthed, hypersexual Italian Americans who self-style as “guidos” and “guidettes.” Never mind that “guido” (slang for a working-class urban Italian-American) is widely perceived by Italian-Americans as a pejorative word, like “spic” or “wop.” It’s a very unflattering stereotype.
Lest you think we lowered ourselves to watch such detritus, we caught a promotion for the series which bragged about gathering the “hottest, tannest, craziest guidos” and assembling them at a beach resort where all would be laid bare (literally). My initial thought was “What an insult to Tony Guido,” an Air Force colleague and friend from Massachusetts. Tony was an honorable man and a credit to Italian-Americans everywhere. Tony exemplified the real translation of the name “Guido” a name which actually means “guide.” In that he was one of my trainers and mentors, he certainly earns the honorable name Guido.
So does Joe Guido, founder-owner of Guido’s Chicago Meat & Deli in Scottsdale. Joe is an affable, larger-than-life personality and likely the first person you’ll meet when you step into his eponymous restaurant and deli. Joe certainly guided us through our memorable meal. Joe is a pioneer, launching Guido’s in 1983 “right after the cowboys and Indians left,” he quipped in an interview with the Scottsdale Progress, adding: “They were riding horses behind the store when we got here.” Back then Scottsdale didn’t sprawl much further north than Shea Blvd. where Guido’s is located.
In its nearly forty years, Guido’s has become so much more than a haven for Windy City transplants who miss their favorite Chicago-area comestibles. It’s become one of the most lauded and popular Italian restaurants in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Its influence and effect on guests may best be described by this paragraph from the Phoenix New Times: “Sometimes we go into Guido’s and just stare. Even if we’re not hungry (a rare occurrence) or if we have no money (way too frequent an occurrence), we just love to look around, sniff, and imagine the many flavors on our mind’s tongue.”
Awe and wonder is a common reaction. For my Chicago born-and-bred bride, it goes even deeper. She was positively agog as she slowly walked the aisles, longingly admiring floor to ceiling shelves packed with Italian comestibles and specialty items. Joe told us much of his enchanting inventory comes from Italy where possible, but also from New York, California and (of course) Chicago. Turophiles will love the variety of Italian cheeses which deserve to be paired with the superb array of Italian cold cuts. We did have a momentary disillusionment when we spotted the Boars Head label on a wall, but were assured that only the ham is acquired from the most commonly eaten cold cuts brand in America.
Other deli items–such as Italian sausage–are made in house. So are salad dressings, sauces and lasagna. Guido’s even roasts its own roast beef. You probably won’t find any restaurant specializing in salads with the stunning assemblage of salads Guido’s offers. If the housemade pastas and sausages don’t grab you, the salads will. Don’t be surprised if you take home diet-defeating fresh breads and pretty as a picture Italian cookies as well as olive oils, dressings, wines and pastas. It’s everything any Italian food aficionado could possibly want and more.
What my Kim misses more about the City of Big Shoulders is a great Italian beef sandwich. She grew up on Portillo’s Italian beef and remains loyal to it even though I always argue we can find better. In taking her to Guido’s, I proved it. On the menu, look for Chicago style roast beef (oven-braised top round with Italian beef gravy. Served with sautéed peppers and onions if you wish.) By any other name, this is the real thing, what Chicago transplants love as much as they do Da Bears. Thanks to an FX series called The Bear there’s been a huge spike in the sale of Italian beef sandwiches across the country.
Italian beef sandwiches are THE quintessential Chicago sandwich, piles of thin-shaved roast beef slid au jus into a French roll and topped with giardiniera. It’s a magnificent sandwich. My Kim prefers onions, bell peppers and cheese to giardiniera and she likes her sandwich “wet” (momentarily immersed in the au jus) Guido’s doesn’t offer the Italian beef “wet,” but a side of the au jus is graciously provided. Otherwise, it’s an Italian beef sandwich the type of which she grew up with and still loves (maybe more than she loves me.) Her verdict: much better than Portillo’s.
As is often the case when menus offer a lot of tempting options, our server (Joe Guido himself) had to return several times to see if I was ready to order. On his third return trip, I asked for half an Italian sub (salami, mortadella, capocollo, provolone cheese) to tide me over until I was ready to order an entree. All the Italian sub did was whet my appetite for more. Made with fresh baked bread and adorned with sliced tomatoes, white onions and pickles on the side, it was a fantastic sandwich. I almost cursed myself for not having ordered a whole sandwich, but that would probably not have left room for my entree.
Before my Kim and I were married, I was stationed at RAF Fairford in England. Because Al Gore had yet to invent the internet and phone calls were more expensive as gasoline under the build back better economy, we wrote War and Peace length letters. No detail was too small or trivial. We would share what we were having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Among the most intriguing dishes she cooked at home was mostaccioli, a dish this bumpkin had never had. Seeing mostaccioli on the menu brought back memories of our courting days and helped me decide what to have. Topped with seasoned ricotta and melted mozzarella, it was the best I’ve ever had since my Kim first made it for me. If you’re wondering, the difference between penne pasta and mostaccioli is that penne is ridged while mostaccioli are smooth in texture. Guido’s version will probably inspire me to beg, cajole, threaten, bribe, etc., my Kim to make it a lot more often.
Phoenix New Times raves about the cannoli, describing it as “perfect.” If anyone would know if it’s possible to improve upon perfection, it would be Joe Guido. Instead of recommending the cannoli, he suggested the cheesecake. Call it heresy if you will, but the cheesecake is from New York NOT Chicago. It’s often debated which of those cities makes the best cheesecake. My vote has always gone to Chicago, but the version at Guido’s is fabulous. It’s thick, dense and absolutely worth an extra three or four hours on the treadmill.
Guido’s Chicago Meat & Deli is synonymous with comfort food deliciousness. It’s everything an Italian deli should be and so much more.
Guido’s Chicago Meat & Deli
10893 North Scottsdale Road
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LATEST VISIT: 30 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: New York Cheesecake, Tiramisu, Mostaccioli, Italian Beef Sandwich, Italian Sandwich