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March 15, 2006

The Beef-Off - Chapter III - Chickie's

Dominic Armato
UPDATE : This Chickie's location has closed

Third time's a charm. We have our first contender for the crown.

This afternoon's lunch is exactly the reason I set out on my quest to try a dozen beef stands this year. Chickie's is precisely the kind of place I would read about but never actually get around to visiting if it weren't for the strict plan to hit a different establishment every month. Today wasn't too busy, so I decided to take the opportunity to make a little South Side field trip and visit one of the stands at the top of my hit list.

Chickie's is yet another traditional-looking Chicago beef stand. It's a little dilapidated, a little grungy, and full of character. There's counter space for about six standing patrons inside, as well as a few picnic tables outside. The base ingredients are also the most common -- Scala's Beef and Gonnella Bread -- but then Chickie's deviates slightly from the norm. For starters, Chickie's has none of that fancy North Side Coca-Cola or Pepsi (despite the sign on the front of the building, oddly enough). It's an RC establishment. But there's another key component that, while a stark departure from tradition, bears surprisingly good results. Chickie's giardiniera is made with jalapeños. This may seem a small detail, but I assure you, it is not. In reading about Chickie's, I've consistently heard that they're a great establishment that does everything right, and that their choice of giardiniera, while unorthodox, is a unique change of pace. In fact, this is what drew me to Chickie's today. The beef craving was there, but after the respectable yet uninspiring averageness of Roma's, I was ready for something a little more interesting. And it was interesting, but not how I expected.

Dominic Armato

I got the usual... a beef, sweet, hot and dipped with fries and a soda. It was a brisk afternoon, but I was warmly dressed and the picnic tables were in the sun, so I parked out on the sidewalk, unpacked and snapped my photos. As mentioned, upon examination, the beef looks entirely orthodox, with the execption of the giardiniera. It's almost exclusively comprised of japapeños, thinly sliced the long way, with just a touch of celery and cabbage. As such, I was expecting a new twist on the Italian Beef, but the first bite surprised me, in that... well... it didn't seem the least bit unusual. The jalapeños didn't stick out as a particularly welcome or unwelcome new addition to the giardiniera pantheon. Rather, they simply took their place among the myriad of subtle flavors harmoniously coexisting in Chickie's sandwich.

Chickie's is the Italian Beef for beef lovers.

The beef itself was very finely shredded, but extremely moist and flavorful, with a natural sweetness that wasn't overly strong. The seasonings in the juice were beautifully balanced, with no particular herb or spice claiming dominance over the others. Even the jalapeño giardiniera was, much to my surprise, rather mellow. It didn't have the tartness that I generally expect from giardiniera, which I missed for the first bite or two, and then completely forgot about. And despite the fact that it was about 90% comprised of jalapeño slices, it was neither overly spicy nor overly peppery. It had a fresh, mellow, green flavor that complemented the beef rather than asserting itself. But lest I give the wrong impression, Chickie's beef was anything but boring. It was a beef sandwich that was remarkably complex, yet utterly serene, single-minded in purpose, with all of the complementary flavors forming a rich, roundly-flavored base to accentuate their star, the beef. Even the fries, quite tasty, were of the same school. They were mushy and sweet, lightly crisped on the edges and generously salted. Just right to support the beef without stealing the spotlight.

All in all, a superlative beef experience. I'm one who likes strong sweet and sour components in my beef sandwich. I'm a condiment fiend who loves bold toppings. This is not Chickie's thing by a longshot. But Chickie's beef is so well-designed that it has me seriously reconsidering a decade of preference when it comes to Italian Beef style. It's the undisputed leader so far, and while I was planning on saving Mr. Beef for the latter half of the year, I may need to do it next month while the memory of Chickie's is still fresh. There is once again true competition in the Beef-Off.

For those keeping score:

1) Chickie's
2) Roma's
3) Al's

2839 S. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60623

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


I went to chickies yesterday and there was a for sale-busines and property- sign on the building. One of the employees said that the owner was selling the business

I know! And this frightens and confuses me. It figures... after years, I find an incredible new (to me) beef stand, and a few months later the owner is trying to get out. Here's hoping any change in management won't hurt the place. It'd be a shame.

This article is now posted on the lefthand wall at Chickie's

no worries people! it was sold to an old family friend and apparently nothing will change, except ownership.....

I worked at Chickies 30 years ago as did all of my brothers and a lot of friends. I still go back to Chickies all lthe way from Houston to get the best fries and beef sandwich ever. I keep praying they won't be closed when I go back this spring. By far, the best beef and fries in America!

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