All good reports should start with some context. Or a tease. So here goes. First, a link to the Beefathon I tasting thread on CH:
Next, since we all know this address is likely to change, disappear, or... here is the text of the report. for your reading pleasure:
Part I of this report is not being copied, as it was an introduction and teaser, just like this:
Part 2 - The condiments and sides.
I think that it is safe to say I will never pay for sweet peppers on my sandwich again. Al's had the best, real steamed peppers with a good pepper flavor, followed closely by Chickies and Johnnies, and then a bit further back by Mr. Beef. Patio and Boston had terrible peppers. But these are, at best, steamed peppers that sit around waiting to be dished up. It just is not any way to treat a sweet pepper, and let's not even talk about the places serving canned peppers.
Giardinera was more interesting with some good, some indifferent and some bad. Freddy's was the best with the highest score in any category, but with only two raters it is mildly suspect. Chickies and Al's were close behind, so we know who takes their peppers seriously. Then Boston and Johnnies, but with a fair drop off in ratings. The others were not good.
If you want Fries with your beef, try Carm's, Al's, Johnnies, Patio or Chickies. All respectable; none were wonderful. This category was right up down with Sweet peppers as the lowest rankings. Perhaps there just is not enough time to make wonderful beef and wonderful fries, though they seem to be trying at a number of the places.
For atmosphere with your beef, try Chickies or Patio, but all the places, except Scatchells, had decent ratings and were close together.
Almost every place uses Gonella bread, except for Freddys and Johnnies which seem to use Turano. Gonnella seems a better, crisper, fuller roll to me and most others, tho Dave and George R seemed to love Johnnies Turano roll, for reasons that escaped the rest of us.
Okay, let's not get annoyed - this is the post you want to read.
There were three styles of beef - thin sliced, thick sliced, and shredded (Al's). Then there was beefy beef and gravy dominated beef. For beef alone, these tasters preferred thin sliced, it seems, with strong gravy flavor. Johnnies was the choice, followed closely by Chickies. A fair drop off to a group of very good places - Mr Beef, Patio, Boston and Al's. But know this about Al's - it is a polarizing place with very high scores and very low scores. More on that follows.
Along with the beef comes the gravy. The best gravy is meaty, with good herbs and garlic and enough beef fat to give it beefy flavor, but not to the point of being greasy. Johnnies and Freddys were head and shoulders above the others, but with only two ratings each so far, this could change. Then a familiar group - Chickies, Mr Beef, Patio, and Al's with Scatchells a bit behind. Boston and Carm's had serious problems - cheap powdered garlic dominating Bostons, and way too much beef fat in Carm's. But once again, if we did this the way they score figure skating and threw out the high and low scores, Al's would win the best gravy. Different herbs, maybe fennel, and some people just did not like the flavor (me, for instance).
As to the best sandwich, it does not exactly equal the sum of its parts. Johnies was best dry and dipped, though there are not a lot of ratings for them. Close behind was Chickies dipped. Then things started to drop off, with a group fairly close together - Mr Beef dipped, Patio dry, Boston dipped (despite the gravy issues it came together very nicely), and another group a bit behind - Patio dipped, Al's dry, Mr Beef dry, Chickies dry, Boston dry, and Al's dipped. Sorry to repeat myself, but most tasters loved Al's, and a few of us did not like it much at all, particularly dipped with that gravy.
So if we had to eat one Italian Beef Sandwich, where would it be? Based on this comparision tasting, what is the best Beef Stand, top to bottom, in Chicago? Every one of these places is pretty good, except Carm's and Scatchells, which were a step below the rest. Carm's almost seemed like a French Dip - beefy gravy, thick chewy slices. And Scatchell's just seemed mass-produced.
If you add it all up, great sandwich, atmosphere, good peppers and giardinera, these tasters as a group pick (scores in parentheses, with 10 being perfect) -
1. Johnnies (7.9) - they just do not do anything wrong
2. Chickies (7.7) - ditto
3. Freddy's (7.4) - as previously noted, this is based on a small number of ratings and Freddys is a great Italian grocery, so the odds are you won't even get a beef sandwich. Still it is very good.
4. Patio (7.0) - Surprisingly good
5. Al's (6.
- to repeat myself, if you throw out one terribly low score of 3.7 (!) Al's ties for third. Drop one more, Al's wins. A very large range of scores.
6. Mr. Beef (6.6) - yes, it is a good sandwich, but if you do not care about service, have a fast food joint atmosphere and offer pretty lousy condiments, it counts for something.
7. Boston (6.3) - a decent sandwich, but many of the same issues as Mr Beef, except we really liked the owner.
8. Carm's (5.9) - great atmosphere, friendly people, good fries and a beefy, greasy, under-seasoned sandwich.
9. Scatchell's (5.0) - They don't care, why should we?
The best sandwich is Johnnies, but you won't go wrong with Patio or Chickies, and Al's is wonderful if you like that gravy. Freddys is a grocery store that serves a good sandwich, but it is the condiments.
which need not be copied here, since it is on a safe, secure, and trustworthy forum....
Results from Beefathon III will be tabulated and posted this weekend.