The Guilty Pleasure: Combo Sandwich Where To Get It: Chicago's Taylor Street Deli, Scottsdale Road north of Loop 202 Price: $6 ($7 with peppers, highly recommended) What It Really Costs: You might want to get your shirt dry-cleaned after eating.
One of my favorite regional guilty pleasures that has found its way to the Valley of the Sun has to be the Italian beef sandwich. Extra-juicy beef, flavorful peppers, all barely contained by a crusty roll... It's heaven on a plate. For a good number of years, I was content to nosh on a regular Italian beef. Then, I browsed through Jane and Michael Stern's recent book The Lexicon of Real American Food. In this extensive culinary glossary, they discussed an option not often seen outside of Chicago, the combo sandwich.
To most Americans, if you say the words "combo" and "sandwich" in the same breath, they think you mean a sandwich that comes with a side and a drink. To Chicagoans, it means something entirely different. A Chicago combo sandwich takes an Italian beef and an Italian sausage, and puts them together in the same piece of bread. The result is much greater than the sum of its parts. The seasonings of each play off the other perfectly, going together like Jay and Silent Bob.
Italian beef can be hit-or-miss in this town. The place that stands far above the rest is Chicago's Taylor Street Deli. It's an unassuming little place that shows vestiges of the space's previous incarnation as a short-lived Quizno's. The owner has wisely chosen to skip expensive remodeling, and concentrates on turning out solid Italian deli favorites.
I've suffered through some dry-as-dust Italian beef in this town, but Taylor Street consistently serves up a great one. The off-the-menu combo sandwich takes the Italian beef clean over the top. The Italian sausage is traditionally char-grilled, but Taylor Street uses a flat-top griddle to great effect, splitting the sausage lengthwise to give it serious sear.
As with that other famous beef sandwich, the Philly cheesesteak, how you order can greatly improve your sandwich. First, it is wise to order your sandwich with peppers. It costs extra, but is a worthwhile investment. Two kinds are available: Sweet (sautéed sweet peppers), and hot (giardinera, which packs sliced spicy peppers and other vegetables). Get one or the other, or go whole-hog and get both. Next, you have to decide on dry or wet. Dry is still plenty juicy, it's just not nearly as juicy as wet. Ordering wet means the whole mess gets dunked in savory beef juices before serving. This makes the sandwich exponentially messier to eat, but it's worth the challenge.