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September 17, 2006

The Beef-Off - Chapter VIII - Tore's

Dominic Armato
UPDATE : Tore's has closed

Here we are, two-thirds of the way through, about to enter the home stretch, and a few truisms are becoming increasingly evident. Most notable, I think, is that inconsistency is the Achilles' heel of the Beef-Off. Granted, the Beef-Off has never claimed to be anything other than a very subjective and personal tour based on a small sample, but all the same, the more places I visit, the less scientific this endeavor seems. But we'll save the error analysis for the conclusion of the exercise at the end of the year. Right now, it's all about more beefy data.

We move on to Tore's Italian Beef, a near north side establishment on the Western, Diversey & Elston megacorner. Tore's is something of a departure from the lovable skeeziness of places like Boston's, Johnnie's, Chickie's, Mr. Beef and Al's. It's another small joint, with counter seating and stools for 20 or so. But as beef stands go, it's an unusually pristine and well-lit environment, which makes me wonder if it's either younger or closer to its most recent facelift. In any case, while there's a soft spot in my heart for total dives, the Beef-Off neither awards nor penalizes eating establishments for atmosphere. It's all about the beef... which in this case, just happened to reflect said atmosphere.

Dominic Armato
I ordered the Beef-Off standard... hot, sweet and dipped... with fries and a soda. For the 483rd time (remarkable for a 12-stop contest), the fries were the typical frozen factory fare, though they were particularly crispy and otherwise prepared as well as they could be. The giardiniera was straight-up traditional, though nicely done, with peppers, cauliflower, carrots, celery and even olives. The sweet peppers, however, were very nicely done. They were cut into big chunks and cooked to just the right point where they were tender without going mushy, and the sweetness had been coaxed out of them while avoiding the bitterness that results from overcooking. Unusually good. The bread was a typical Gonnella roll, but it struck me as particularly fresh. The beef was abundant, tender, moist and not the least bit overcooked. But while I'd definitely peg Tore's as a solid sandwich, I couldn't get enthusiastic about the juice. It was very nicely seasoned, well-balanced and tasty, but it struck me as rather timid. Tore's beef has a very light, mild, clean flavor that is hard to fault, but equally as difficult to get excited about. It's not that it had the sterile precision of Portillo's or the weak, almost watery flavor of Roma's... there was character present... it's just that said character was a little wimpy.

As such, owing to the many things Tore's gets very right, I think it clearly belongs in the middle tier. But because it was more competent than exciting, I think I need to put it towards the bottom of the middle tier. It had more life than Portillo's, but above or below Boston's is a tough call. If I were to consider a second, unofficial trip to Boston's wherein the abusive oregano blast was nicely muted, it wouldn't be a contest. But even if I count the official (and lesser) Boston's visit, I think I still prefer Boston's flawed intensity to Tore's clean, conservative approach. If you're all about clean and light (inasmuch as a beef sandwich can be described as clean and light), you'll probably dig Tore's a lot more than I did. But for me, it's going in fifth position... smack dab in the middle of the pack.

Tore's Italian Beef
2804 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
1) Chickie's
2) Johnnie's
3) Mr. Beef
4) Bostons
5) Tore's
6) Portillo's
7) Roma's
8) Al's

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


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