Italian Beef Birthday Surprise

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn's Depot.

Michelle is the perfect bartender for Monday Night at Donn’s Depot.

For 18 years I’ve had what musicians call a “residency” gig, a weekly show that happens at the same place and builds up a loyal following over time. Mine is every Monday night from 9 to 1 at the old Yamaha grand piano at a place called Donn’s Depot in Austin, Texas. It’s built out of a real depot and a handful of railroad cars, including a red caboose that serves as the coolest ladies room on the planet with it’s shag carpeting and private stalls.

The Monday bartender is our great friend Michelle, who has childhood ties to Chicago, and a great affinity for the food that comes from there. She knows her deep dish pizza and her Italian Beef sandwiches. Being the generous soul that she is, for my birthday she had a full Italian Beef sandwich kit sent from Portillo’s in Chicago via a website called “Tastes of Chicago” that was created by our favorite pizza place, Lou Malnati’s.

Portillo's Italian Beef Kit

Portillo’s Italian Beef Kit

A big box arrived on the front porch…I’m glad I noticed it as I was pulling out of the driveway. It said on the side “Somebody must really like you!” and “Refrigerate as soon as possible”. Wow. Inside the box I found 2 pounds of thinly sliced beef, 8 bake at home rolls, 2 quarts of gravy, a bag of sweet roasted peppers and a jar of spicy Hot Giardiniera, the pickly peppers and carrots that “tie the room together”.

Of course we had to invite Michelle and her family (new baby Revé and our grandson Brody had a fine time on their first meeting) over to share the Chicago bounty. We baked the rolls, heated the gravy, soaked the beef in the gravy and built our incredible sandwiches with the beef, a strip of sweet pepper and a pile of spicy Giardiniera. Michelle’s generosity had turned into one of the finest lunches we’ve ever had at the MoonHouse. She’s figured out a way to replicate these using local items, but we all agreed that the kit from Portillo’s was the real deal.

My sandwich in Chicago.  Mmmmmmm good.

My sandwich in Chicago. Mmmmmmm good.

Oddly enough, I had a Jerry Jeff concert scheduled in St. Paul the next weekend, and ended up flying through Chicago’s Midway Airport and discovered the Gold Coast Hot Dog and Italian Beef Stand down the hall from our gate. I sampled the Italian Beef, loved it, but preferred the ones we made at home. More soul, I think.

Ciao for now. Check out Tastes of Chicago! CG

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2 comments on “Italian Beef Birthday Surprise

  1. Jim Whaley says:

    Chris, I a life long Chicagoan, born and raised on the south side. I am also the guy that bought you and your bass player pal a glass of red wine at the Grist Mill during the pre concert refreshment and nourishment stop prior to one of the December shows a couple of years ago. Now, I am a big fan of Portillos, now doubt about that, and their Italian beef ranks about numero uno in my very experienced book. That said, you can take it a notch or two as follows. And these are in no particular order and can even be combined. In addition to that fine Italian Beef, Portillos serves a very fine Italian sausage, kind of mild or sweet, and when you combined the two you get a magnificent Chicago staple, “The Combo” add your peppers to taste and you have a double delight. Now another way to kick this up either in beef or combo form is to smother the sandwich with shredded mozzarella cheese and then pop that open face under the broiler until melted in a gooey and delicious topping for the beef and sausage that lie below. Oh man I’m getting hungry just thinking about it, and there is a Portillos not 5 minutes drive from my house! I’m outta here! Love from Chicago! Jim and Liz Whaley

  2. Chris Gage says:

    Jim, that sounds awesome. No Portillo’s around here, but a plethora of taco shops!

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