Anyone who has spent any time in Chicago is probably a fan of Italian beef. It’s a pretty simple sandwich: thinly sliced roast beef that’s simmered in its own juices and served on an Italian roll. It can be ordered hot (topped with giardiniera) or sweet (with roasted green peppers). You can also ask for it “wet” (with) or “dry” (without) extra jus (“zhooo”). Knockoffs are available throughout Chicago and across the country. But traditionalists insist none can compare to the original: Al’s Beef. In operation since 1938, Al’s Italian beef has been named one of the Top 10 Sandwiches in America by Travel & Leisure. And thanks to franchising, Las Vegans can now get an authentic taste of the Windy City on West Sahara Avenue.
So how is it? If you’re already a disciple from Chicago, you don’t give a damn what I have to say: I’m not a huge fan. But should the rest of you consider joining the flock? While I like the rich beef itself, it could use a bit of seasoning, but I find the giardiniera far too spicy. My advice would be to order it sweet and ask for a side of the hot-pepper mixture. It’ll cost you 50 cents more, but would allow you to spice to taste. If you’re ordering takeout, stick with dry sandwiches, because the wet ones are almost guaranteed to disintegrate during the drive home.
To prove I’m not a total heretic, however, be sure to try a Chicago Dog: a classic Vienna Beef that’s been “dragged through the garden” with mustard, relish, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes and kosher pickle spears. And while the fresh-cut “loaded” fries—topped with cheddar cheese sauce, bacon and scallions with sour cream on the side—are so messy you’ll have to eat them with a fork, they are delicious.
In the meantime, I’m a lot more excited about Cornish Pasty Co., which is located just a few miles away on East Sahara. Nestled in with the swingers clubs, gay bars and leather shops of Commercial Center is the first local incarnation of an Arizona chain paying tribute to the miners of Cornwall, England. It’s a cute little spot that seats 35 to 40, with tables surrounding a large U-shaped bar. The décor is simple but classy, with vintage mining photos lining the walls. (Unfortunately, the ornate bar stools are extremely uncomfortable.)
Since the 13th century, Cornish tin miners have eaten their own versions of the sandwich: crimped pockets of dough stuffed with a wide variety of ingredients. Here, you have more than 30 types available, ranging from traditional selections such as shepherd’s pie to distinctly non-English meals, including a cheese steak and the Royale with Cheese (filled with hamburger, french fries, onion, mushroom, bacon and cheese, with your choice of dipping sauce). In true Imperial British fashion, there are numerous Indian selections, and a large number of vegetarian and vegan options.
Traditionally, the ends of a “pasty” were considered tainted by the arsenic on the miners’ hands, and were tossed away. Even if you had been mining, that wouldn’t be a problem here, since delicious-but-sloppy dishes such as chicken tikka masala require a knife and fork.
I’ve barely dented the menu here. But my favorite so far is the bangers and mash, blending subtly spiced sage sausage with onions sautéed in red wine and mashed potatoes. (Unfortunately, the side of gravy is ridiculously salty.) And make sure to save room for dessert, because the sticky toffee Shirley Temple’s Pudding could give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money.
6840 W. Sahara Ave., 644-2333. Open for lunch and dinner, 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun-Thu, 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri-Sat.
Cornish Pasty Co.
953 E. Sahara Ave., 862-4538. Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.–midnight Mon-Sat, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.