Ever since I lived in Chicago, I swear to God it's been nearly impossible to find an acceptable Chicago dog or beef sandwich in the L.A. area. Well, that all changed for me yesterday when I headed down to cover the opening of Chicago's famed Mr. Beef in its new location on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Dealing with the -- how shall I say? interesting -- crowd of the summer boardwalk scene was well worth it to get my hands on the.real.thing. It was so great to taste an authentic beef sandwich and Chicago dog that I ended up covered it in L.A. Weekly. Here's the post, with some additional, personal touches.
Chicago's Legendary Mr. Beef Comes to L.A.
You don't have to be Italian to appreciate the greatness of a dipped beef sandwich, packed with paper-thin beef dripping under the weight of savory jus. You certainly don't have to be from the Midwest to appreciate the bite of a Chicago-style hot dog, filled with Vienna beef and topped with the traditional slice of pickle, tomato, diced onion, relish, hot peppers, mustard and celery salt. And ever since Chicago's legendary Mr. Beef opened on the Venice Beach boardwalk on July 4th, you don't have to live in the Windy City to get them.
Mr. Beef's Famous Beef Sandwich
Mention Mr. Beef to any Chicago transplant and you'll need to give them a moment to compose themselves; their mouths may water and their eyes might take on a forlorn, love-lost look. Opened in 1963 on Chicago's Orleans Street by Italian brothers-in-law Carl Buonavolanto and Tony Ozzauto -- known simply as "Papa" and Uncle Tony" to Tommy Costabile, owner of the Venice Beach location -- the shop originally served their grandmother's sliced beef sandwich recipe. Chicago locals loved it as much as the Buonavolanto family loved making it, as Costabile notes, "we just love to cook and please [people]; it's what we live for."
Mr. Beef's Maxwell Street Polish Sausage
Over the years, the big beef sandwich at the tiny beef stand created such a demand that the family opened five additional Mr. Beef locations around the city. Throughout the expansion, grandma's original beef sandwich kept its spot as the menu's signature item, but the family slowly added other Chicago staples like the Chicago Dog, The Maxwell Street Polish and the pizza "PUFF." It also attracted the attention of food lovers beyond the streets of Chicago, beating out competitor Al's Beef on Travel Channel's Food Wars and winning the heart of talk-show host, Jay Leno. Since expanding to Venice Beach -- the beef stand's first locale outside Chicago -- Costabile says that his Mr. Beef location is the only restaurant in California to carry the real Vienna beef Chicago dog, Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and Iltaco's Pizza PUFF, a toaster strudel-esque pastry pocket filled with a mixture of meat, cheese, tomato sauce and spices. Perhaps ironically, Mr. Beef is located directly across from Muscle Beach, filled with meatheads and wanna-be Mr. Beefs.
Iltaco's Pizza PUFF
The reaction from the eclectic Venice beach crowd? Costabile says "it's so nice to be welcomed" especially from Chicagoan-turned-Angelenos. "To see the expressions on their faces when they eat [the beef sandwich] and finally believe it's the real thing; that's exactly why we're doing this." First-timers are also giving Mr. Beef their approval, politely giving up their natural inclination to bury the taste of a dog under a mound of ketchup. "Instead," Costabile says, "they let us give it to them the right way." Which is, of course, the Chicago way.