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2009-02-15 Save Mr. Beef

As published in the Huffington Post

The city may be on the verge of losing another cultural icon. According to reports in the Chicago Tribune and Crain's, Mr. Beef is facing foreclosure.

Seems like Joseph Zucchero and Michael Genevese, co-owners of the cultural and culinary institution at 666 N. Orleans St., overextended themselves at a bad time. Apparently they are delinquent on some loans they took out to help finance the March opening of a new venture, the more upscale Natalino's, a 120-seat restaurant at 1523 W. Chicago Ave.

Zucchero told the Trib that Mr. Beef is not going to close, but the the details reported in the articles above sound like it will be tough for them to stay above water. I recommend you get to Mr. Beef soon for two reasons: They can use the cash flow, and if they go down, there is nothing to replace them. Mr. Beef ranks second only to Al's on Taylor Street, and there's a big gap between them and #3 Johnnie's in Elmwood Park.

Created on the South Side in the Italian enclaves around the now defunct Stockyards, the classic Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (pronounced sangwitch) is a unique, drippy, messy variation on the French Dip Sandwich. It is available in hundreds of joints around the city, and rarely found beyond the metro area.

The exact origin is unknown, but it was probably created by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. The recipe was popularized by Pasquale Scala, a South Side butcher and sausage maker. During the Depression, in the late 1920s, when food was scarce, Scala's thinly sliced roast beef on a bun with juice and fried peppers took off. Today, beef sangwitches are a staple at Italian weddings, funerals, parties, political fund raisers, and lunches "wit my boyz". And Scala's Packing Company supplies hundreds of restaurants and Italian Beef Stands with the raw ingredients.

To learn more about the history of this iconographic sandwich, about the "Cheef", the "Combo", "With Gravy", and the "Soaker", how to order it, how it is made, how to make it at home, and my rankings of the best beef stands, click here.

Postscript: Mr. Beef and their landlords came to an agreement.

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