Gotta give Alton Brown credit — for a man born in L.A. and raised in Georgia to come to Chicago, do an Italian beef taste-off, and publicly proclaim a winner (albeit after he left the town, although presumably he would like to return one day) — well, it takes some nerve. His social media tally came up with two finalists: the local mini-chain Al’s, and Johnnie’s of Elmwood Park. Alton sat blindfolded before the two sandwiches and went back and forth with hearty bites from each.
He slightly preferred the meat of Al’s sandwich but he found the green peppers to be undercooked. Johnnie’s sandwich had more capsaicin heat, the roll was heartier, and the vegetables were cut finer. Final analysis: Al’s good, Johnnie’s great.
Our thoughts about Chicago beef sandwiches mirror those we have of Philly cheesesteak emporiums: yes, there are clear differences, but the variations from day to day (and even hour to hour – how long have the peppers been sitting, who seasoned this batch of meat, who prepared your sandwich, etc.) at a single joint are likely to be as great as those between two different places. (And we state our case as residents of New Jersey who were born in New York!)