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First things first: I claim no expertise regarding the beloved Windy City sandwich known as Italian beef, nor am I from Chicago. What I do know is a thing or two about sandwiches. In fact, I have myriad opinions on them, ranging from proper construction to bread choice to ratio of fillings. And I certainly know a great one when I taste it.
Little Carmine’s has been serving hearty Italian-American sandwiches at the fast casual storefront next door to its parent restaurant, Carmine’s on Penn, since 2013. And since that time, a regular has been begging owner Brad Ritter to add an Italian beef sandwich to the menu. “I didn’t know what it was,” says Ritter, “and we tried to make a version, but it was more of a Philly cheesesteak with giardiniera. It wasn’t right. So chef Eric Seabolt and I went to Chicago and ate at Al’s Beef; we had two lunches and two or three dinners there, and the sandwich just stuck with me. We came back home and fixed it up.”
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Oh, that Chicago beef. It’s a scrumptious mess of a sandwich, for which multiple napkins and a dining companion without much appetite is required—so you don’t have to share. The white paper it’s wrapped in will be soaked with juices when it arrives at your table, a promising sign. Don’t hesitate. Unfold carefully and create a plate of sorts to catch the inevitable onslaught of falling crumbs and giardiniera chunks and bits of tender meat. The gently crusty hoagie rolls that Carmine’s bakes daily will hold the marinated slices of beef in place, but only for so long. It’s finger-licking work to eat this beauty, but the beef is so tender, the pickled veggies so bright, the jus so savory, it’ll be gone before you know it. The question thereafter is how long you can wait before returning for another.
Little Carmine’s has also added a Jersey hoagie (Genoa salami, mortadella, soppressata, capocolla, lettuce, tomato, provolone, red wine vinaigrette), a NOLA muffuletta (the same filling as the Jersey hoagie but with olive salad instead of vinaigrette), and a pickled veggie hoagie (pickled carrots and cabbage, fresh cucumber, roasted red peppers, pesto aïoli) to its lineup. There are also expanded hours (Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and you can order online. Which you should, and soon.
84 South Pennsylvania St., 303-993-8742