Chicago Relocation

Rosal’s and Beef Sangwiches. Welcome to Chicago’s Little Italy

May 22, 2013

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Chicago neighborhoods
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John D’Ambrogio

So I took a very cold run this morning through Little Italy. You know, those mornings when the sun’s at a degree higher than mercury? Chapstick and mittens day….And while I only saw five people (and one dog) on the run, I ran through a very alive and resilient community – Little Italy.

You can’t write about Little Italy without writing about where to eat and where to buy good food. Little Italy is filled with many gems almost all of them on the famous Taylor Street.

While these gems have a deep rooted history in Little Italy the geography of the neighborhood has changed quite a bit.  As my Uncle Tony said, the “cross-town highway that ‘kilt’ the old neighborhood.” And it did indeed cut the neighborhood in two, significantly isolating the western half. Why?  Well, it was due to the fact that “hiz honor” adamantly pushed for construction of both the highway and UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago).  If you want to be a real Chicagoan call UIC “Circle Campus.”

A lovely little island of taste and smells on the western end is Ferrara Bakery - a 100+ year old institution. YUM. Look for Nella behind the counter and ask for a tall espresso and a fresh filled canolli. Now that’s a Little Italy breakfast for ya.

After your coffee make sure to visit the Catholic churches of Our Lady of Pompeii and Holy Guardian Angel.  For lunch, walk down to Pompeii Bakery and try the strudel. No, it’s not like a danish.  It’s kind of like a calabrese, which is kind of like a turnover… ah, never mind.

Or take a stroll over to Mario’s Italian Ice.  Here, I heard, stands at a location where a certain crowd used to buy bathtub gin back in the day.  I also heard the shop sold shots right out the front of the two-flat.  After the repeal of prohibition they went main stream and started selling truly the world’s best Italian Ice. Yeah, I don’t know if that story is true.

If you want to see how to eat a “sangwich” check out the stance taken by the patrons at Al’s #1 Beef  on Taylor (the real one and only). Oder your Italian Beef sangwich either sweet, hot, wet, or all three.  Not to be too cryptic this would be your choice of sweet peppers, hot giardiniera, and/or bread dipped in “the juice.” I’m a sweet hot myself. So called.  Booths? Tables? Ha. How about a nice counter to lean on?  The “Chicago stance,” according to “Man v. Food,” is how this meal is to be consumed.  The stance is similar to how you would stand as if you’re leaning forward trying to take a picture of something that’s very far away. Hands right up to your face, feet slightly past shoulder length, leaning a bit forward.

You know, I’ve been to my homeland of Italy many times, and never seen “Italian Ice” or “Italian Beef” marketed. Hmm… then again, I never order “an Americano” in the states.

Finally, if you have a business partner or lady friend you’d like to impress you cannot go wrong at RoSal’s.  It’s not my favorite restaurant JUST because they have a photo of the D’Ambrogio family in 1925 (Giovanni, Lena, Eddie, Marie and Tony – he’s the baby in the dress).  No, RoSal’s has some the best food and service ever. You can order what you want whether it’s on the menu or not.  Just talk about it with your server. Want shells instead of linguine? Just ask. Want the chicken scallopini but made with veal and with the tomato basil sauce? Just let ‘em know.  Or ask for their advice.  I also believe their bread is from DiMato’s, a very good bakery…

I gotta go. I’m getting hungry.




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