They’ve got the dude food
The inside of Chicago Beef bears an eerie resemblance to a single guy’s apartment. This restaurant (in what used to be the Doc and Mz. V’s building on Isleta) absolutely tickled my pickle with not only a menu of bona fide “dude food,” but the general air of bachelor living personified in bare walls and a profusion of condiments.
Women know what I’m talking about. We’ve all dated guys who live alone. We’ve all squashed a wry smile the first time we visited the man crib and brushed aside pizza boxes to find a seat on holey, crushed-velvet couches. We’ve cringed at their bathrooms (thankfully, that’s not a problem at Chicago Beef), and narrowly dodged letting an admonition slip when inspecting the contents (or lack thereof) of their fridges. By the same token, part of the guys’ charm is the fact that they need us to fill their living spaces with little soaps and matching pillows, the way I felt Chicago Beef needed me to sit and eat and bring friends.
As I sat in my unadorned booth, I multi-tasked by looking at the menu and watching the other diners, who were mostly men. They seemed relaxed, even cheery, and with a menu like this, who could blame them? There are two kinds of food: pizzas and sandwiches. Almost everything is meat-based and/or man-friendly, like the “fire-eater” pizza, loaded with pepperoni, jalapeños, green chili and hot Giardiniera (a mixture of hot pickled veggies, imported from Chicago) or the original Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, layered with shaved beef in an Italian roll and covered in au jus (beef juices).
I ordered a hot dog ($2.99) and a basket of onion rings ($1.99), and as a souvenir, a nine-inch Chicago beef deluxe pizza ($7.99) to go. Even the stuff on the menu is presented without frills. It’s “beef burger,” “bowl of chili” and bratwurst.
Co-owner Hass Aslami was my server, and a very attentive one at that. He talked me into having my hot dog slathered with the house cheese blend, nicely melted (good call), and told me that the Chicago-style deep dish pizzas were a recent addition to the menu. (The signature crust is his own recipe.) He skated me a free slice of the “all meat” to illustrate his enthusiasm.
Authentic deep-dish pizza is sorely lacking in this town (remember: I’m an ex-Midwesterner). But this slice couldn’t have been more heaven-sent if the clouds parted and cherubs floated down with little harps. The crust was amazing, with the perfect balance of a light, crisp outside and soft, salty inside. The flavor was a triumvirate of butter, yeast and oregano, swirled all over with rich, thick tomato sauce. The slices of pepperoni and Canadian bacon (the real McCoy, not that chewy ham stuff) were layered under a supple bed of melted cheese, then topped off with nuggets of spicy sausage the size of knuckles.
I was so thrilled with the pizza I damn near forgot I had other food coming. The hot dog was no teeney turkey dog, either. This creation was large and in charge: The 1/4-pound dog was all-beef, tucked into a huge Italian sub roll and smothered with cheese. I added spicy brat mustard, a heaping scoop of sauerkraut and a pile of spicy, vinegary Giardiniera. The bits of pepper, onion, carrot and jalapeño were aromatic, crunchy and hot.
I took a tour of the condiment bar, and halfway through I grasped my midsection and laughed so hard I was winded. Square in the middle of the cold bar was a large bowl of salad mix (with a vast array of dressings to suit every taste)—the hilarity came when I realized that salad is a mere garnish here, to be taken as an afterthought in favor of the magnitude of meats. The cold bar also featured tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, pickles, relishes and bottles and jars of sauces as far as the eye could see. The hot bar had steaming pans of sautéed bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, chili, sauerkraut and au jus.
Back at the table, those onion rings were the best I’ve had in Albuquerque: big, densely battered ovals filled with thick-sliced sweet onion. Two of those bad boys were filling enough for me, but I couldn’t stop eating. Every crispy bite was better than the last. They needed no ranch, no ketchup, just my hungry mug.
After packing up my to-go box, Hass talked me into a piece of chocolate cheesecake for later. (I was a tough sell ... it took about one second.) I complimented him on the great man-food place he’s cultivated. On the car ride home, I decided that if I owned the place, I’d go the distance and do some righteous dude decor. I’d put a Kevin Smith movie on the tube, huck some crushed beer cans onto the floor, maybe tack up a Marilyn Monroe wall calendar. But I’d still bank on the fact that where there is good meat, there will be guys.