According to very official food historians, the Italian beef was born in Chicago in 1938, in the throes of the Great Depression, when meat was scarce and folks weren't splurging on fancy eats. Al Ferrari dreamed up the now-iconic sandwich as a cheap fix, filling chunky loaves of crusty Italian bread with thin slices of beef and dressing it up with peppers for added flavor. These days, the economy is looking up, but the Italian beef remains a beloved local favorite that's got just as much clout as the Chicago-style hot dog or deep-dish pizza.
Though Chicagoans are sticklers for tradition, there's a new beef in town you gotta try. The only catch? It's not made with meat. Duck Inn chef-owner Kevin Hickey has perfected a vegan version of the sandwich that's—dare we say—just as good as the original, if not better. The Beet Street is crafted with roasted and shaved beets that have been brined for five days in salt and spices, imparting the same rich flavor that graces its meat-filled counterpart. The beets are then bathed in a savory, mushroom-based umami jus and stuffed inside a flaky sub roll from D'Amato's Bakery. You can (and should) make it a combo by adding a Beyond Meat Italian sausage to the mix; hot and sweet peppers are a must. The tender, slow-roasted beets and punchy Italian spices will satisfy carnivores and meat-free eaters alike.
Try Hickey's Beet Street—and the original version, which is crafted with shaved prime rib—at Decent Beef, opening inside Time Out Market Chicago at 916 W Fulton Market on Thursday, November 21.