Friday, February 1, 2013

We’ve Been to Chicago, to Phillly…

to the Middle East, and now back again. To Chicago that is.
Have you noticed anything missing from our blogs? Here we are just 67.9 miles from the Mexico border. lists 295 Mexican restaurants. And we have yet to eat Mexican food. But, for some reason, neither of us is in the mood for Mexican food. So we have been sampling other, and mostly casual, restaurants.

So today we are at Luke’s Italian Beef for another taste of Chicago. What is Italian beef? “Kind of like Chicago’s answer to the French dip or Philly cheese steak, an Italian beef sandwich is made up of thin strips of seasoned roast beef, flavorful meat drippings, and a long Italian-style roll. The sandwiches are served either with sautéed bell peppers or giardiniera, a spicy combination of pickled vegetables….
While the true origins are a mystery, it’s widely agreed that it was first found among the workers of Chicago’s famous Union Stock Yards in the 1930s. To hear many Chicagoans tell it, though, the Italian beef sandwich was invented by Al Ferreri of the famous Al’s Beef, arguably Chicago’s best Italian beef sandwich maker. Others argue that Pasquale Scala, founder of Scala Packing Company, invented it to help his customer’s stretch their dollars further during the Great Depression” (

And if you’re “Looking for authentic Chicago-style sandwiches in the middle of the desert Southwest? You'll find them right here at Luke's Sandwiches. Italian Beef, rib eye steak, and the pastrami all feature quality meats and cheeses served on fresh-baked…rolls. Try ‘the Del.’”  (

If you are looking for fancy—this is not your place. Geovanny S. at said that “The ambience is like many older ones in Chicago, a 50's style shack.” Well, I wouldn’t describe Luke’s as a shack, but it was certainly casual and just what we were looking for.

Luke’s does offer salads. As they say: “Salads. We build the salad, you pick the meat.” And meat choices include pastrami, turkey, beef, chicken, tuna, and rib eye. But the menu is largely based on sandwiches—many, along with the Italian Beef, of a Chicago origin or influence.
And that includes a Chicago Dog and Fries combination that has been “Voted Tucson's best four years in a row. A pure beef kosher hot dog served on a poppy seed roll. Topped with Guldens spicy brown mustard, relish, onions, pickle, tomatoes, and sport peppers” ( And I understand that the dogs come from the Vienna Beef Company in Chicago—the purveyor of the best hot dogs in the country. And, as should be the case with any great Chicago dog, celery salt is available for a final shake of goodness.

But we wanted Italian Beef, and Italian Beef we would have. Chuck—not usually the adventurous one of this team—went all out and ordered The Del “(n)icknamed after the founder of Luke’s - Luke del Principe. Our Italian beef on a hard French roll dipped in a jus sauce. Then we add a lean Italian sausage. One hardy meal.”
And hardy it was. It may have been what Melissa K. described on “Want a sandwich that will feed you for the entire day? ...Look no longer folks, Luke’s on Speedway is the place to go…” This was enormous package of meat with heaping amounts of thin sliced and juicy meat that still retained a hint of pinkness along with a sausage made with lean pork shoulder. So lean that one on-line commenter described it as dry. And it might have been, if eaten alone, but was a perfect pair with the juicy meat. He could have added cheese or sweet or hot peppers but—revealing his inner purist—went “naked.”

Chuck’s description of this being a sandwich “you can’t put down” had two meanings. First, it was that delicious that you couldn’t stop eating. Second, after putting it down he may not have been able to reassemble it again.

I ordered the regular Italian Beef—“Luke’s specialty. This is what Luke’s was built on. Our Italian beef is cooked fresh daily in Italian spices, then each morning we cut it fresh, lean and thin. Piled high on a hard French roll dipped in a jus sauce.”
I might have liked a more pronounced “Italian” taste to the beef to differentiate this sandwich from a French Dip, but I still managed to rapidly devour it to the last bite.

And in true Chicago style, I added the hot peppers or giardiniara that Michael, the counter man during our visit, told me was specially made for their restaurants (there are two other Luke’s in Tucson) by a man in Phoenix. The Speedway outlet adds additional olives to the mix and one of the others adds additional vegetables. This had just the right amount of peppery spice, and I can’t imagine having an Italian Beef sandwich without it.

What held the sandwiches together—both literally and figuratively—were the rolls which are delivered daily from the La Baguette Bakery—part of Ghinis French Caffe. Italian Beef on a French roll? Yes. This is where two great food cultures come together. The roll was perfect with just enough crust and substance to keep the roll from disintegrating when dipped in the jus.

With our sandwiches, we shared a regular-sized order of crinkle fries. I am not usually a huge fan of crinkle fries, but these were outstanding. First, they were thinner than your standard crinkle fry, and since I love shoestring fries, these were a good compromise. And they arrived at the table fresh from the fryer—none of this sitting under a heat lamp stuff—and were steaming hot and crisp.

Before leaving, we had the chance to talk with the owner, Jason Amadori, who I think is one of Del Principe’s sons. (Jason is shown on the right in this photo along with Michael the counter man and valuable information source.)
Melissa K. at says: “Missing Chicago? Luke’s has been family owned for years and this is the latest restaurant opened by his son and with all the family photos around you feel like you could walk right up and start up a conversation with this Tucson family. The owner, Jason is there most days and is probably in the kitchen making your sandwich.”

I was going to give Luke’s 4.5 Addies but upon reflection have changed this to 5.0 Addies. The speed and gusto with which we both consumed our meals was the tipping point.

And, in case you are wondering, I didn’t ask.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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