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February 28, 2006

The Beef-Off - Chapter II - Roma's


Dominic Armato
The second stop on my Chicago tour de boeuf is one with Armato family history.

Back in the days when my folks were courting, my father was living up on the North Shore, and he'd drive down into the city to pick up my mother and take her out for the evening. This meant a lot of late... and often sleepy... drives back north. It was during this time that my father, fearing for his safety, developed a theory that I think holds true to this day:

You can't sleep while you're eating.

While the study of NS-RED has technically disproven the theory, in general I think it's a good one. It isn't too hard to drift off while the dashed yellow line drifts by in hypnotizing fashion, but it is exceptionally difficult to fall asleep while you're chewing and swallowing. Of course, one might also question the wisdom of attempting to eat a Roma's beef sandwich while operating a motor vehicle, but hey... these were times when getting behind the wheel while drunk was socially acceptable in most spheres. Thankfully, neither gustatory nor somnambulatory endeavors kept my father from surviving his courtship, and he has thus been afforded the opportunity to produce progeny, to whom he might pass on the love for the beef stand that quite possibly kept him alive.

I joined my folks at Roma's for an Italian beef dinner last week, and decided to make this the second official entry in my 2006 Beef-Off. Roma's is a fairly typical Chicago beef establishment in terms of appearance. It doesn't quite have the borderline grungy character of Al's, but it has definitely seen its fair share of years, and it's a hole-in-the-wall counter joint. However, while we endeavor to set the scene for you, the Beef-Off is completely unconcerned with appearances. It's all about the beef (and maybe the fries). As such, it's merely coincidence that Roma's beef is also fairly typical.

Generally speaking, I'd describe Roma's as good, but not great. One thing I will say for it is that the predominant flavor was definitely the beef. The juice's seasoning was fairly light, and the peppers were nothing fancy whatsoever... slightly garlicky sweet and large chunks of hot peppers and celery for the giardiniera. Both the beef and bread were a little dry (parts of my bread seemed a touch stale, even, despite the fact that I had it dipped), but this wasn't the major shortcoming that kept Roma's from greatness. Though the sandwich had a nice, basic, beefy flavor, the juice just seemed... well... weak. I don't quite want to go so far as to call it watery, but the thought briefly crossed my mind. So while I generally appreciated the flavor -- beefy, lightly spiced, ever so slightly sweet -- I just felt as though I wanted more of it. I still preferred it to Al's, but I don't expect it will be long before Roma's is unseated as the current favorite.

In Roma's defense, I understand that they're one of the few beef establishments in the city that don't regularly get their beef from a single, consistent source (read: Scala). So I'm told that their beef is a little inconsistent, and probably shouldn't be judged on one visit. But here at the Beef-Off, we make no exceptions. Every chosen establishment has one chance to put its best foot forward, and we judge the... um... foot we're given. After two rounds, said foot is currently in the lead.

For those keeping score, the current standings:

1) Roma's
2) Al's

Addendum: The final Beef-Off results and wrapup can be found in The Year In Beef.

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