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December 15, 2006

The Beef-Off - Chapter XI - Pop's

Dominic Armato
Who am I to argue with Santa? *

The second to last stop on the grand tour de boeuf was a bit of a trek for this particular North Sider. It was also the most expensive beef by a longshot, but only as a function of the gas guzzled to get there. When a beef stand is as highly regarded as Pop's, however, it's difficult to leave it off the list. There are a few locations, but I have it on good authority that the one on Kedzie is the one to hit. Though still within the city limits, Pop's is located way on the South Side in lovely Evergreen Park. This was my first visit to Evergreen Park, and it certainly seems like a quaint little 'hood... the kind of place that might very well attract an endorsement from the jolly red fella. As appearances go, Pop's is right in the traditional Chicago beef stand sweet spot; well-kept with counter seating inside and picnic tables outside, but just skeezy enough to have street cred. Somehow, I don't feel right eating an Italian Beef in a place that isn't at least a little dive-y. But I felt right at home down at Pop's, seated at the counter with the Beef-Off standard. Was it worth the trip?

Dominic Armato
I don't know that I'd make the 38.2 mile round trip again anytime soon, but Santa shills for a very good sandwich.

The taters? Well, we've seen these fries before. The sandwich, on the other hand, is nearly fault-free. I'd prefer a slightly bolder flavor, and the beef wasn't quite as moist and tender as I'd like, but it's hard to hold that against an otherwise superior sammy. It's a standard roll, abundantly packed with nicely seasoned beef and well-soaked, per my request. The giardiniera is a rather nice one, tart but still quite green, with very thin slices of celery and jalapeno and a smattering of crushed red chiles for pop... and pop it's got. I'm torn on the sweet peppers, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. They're completely unseasoned as far as I can tell, but they're genuinely sweet sweet peppers that are nice and tender, and haven't been cooked into bitter oblivion. Most importantly, when thrown together, all of the elements are really nicely balanced and complement each other perfectly.

So where does it go in the rankings? I'm going to say tippy-top of the middle tier. Technically, it gets some truly excellent marks. But while it doesn't have the obvious flaws of a beef like Uncle Johnny's, it also doesn't quite have the intangible beefy magic of the current top three, Uncle Johnny's included. It outdoes the pack, but doesn't transcend it. In sum, an excellent beef... one of the best... but not worth trucking all over town for.

* I was under the impression that milk and cookies were more his speed, but the marquee says otherwise.

Pop's Italian Beef
10337 S. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60655
773-239-1243
1) Chickie's
2) Johnnie's
3) Uncle Johnny's
4) Pop's
5) Mr. Beef
6) Bostons
7) Tore's
8) Portillo's
9) Jay's
10) Roma's
11) Al's

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

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