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Al's Italian Beef

Comments from the Kitchen Office

First of all, I didn't get enough napkins.

And I should have taken off my jacket.

All it took was opening the wrapper and I was splattered with the components of flavor (ok, grease).

The things we at The Food Channel do in search of what's happening in food.

Because we've noticed that Italian beef is cropping up on more menus. And not just as a fast food. It isn't exactly mainstreamed into fine dining, but it is gaining attention for its flavor and versatility. Not to mention the challenges of eating it.

Of course, we've paid attention to the great debate: dipped or not dipped.

So at least one of us had to go to the source. Chicago. We checked out our options--and there are quite a few; we settled on Al's Italian Beef. After all, Al's is the sandwich that has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, Gourmet Magazine, and Esquire Magazine (just to name a few), and on the usual morning shows such as The Today Show and Good Morning America, as well as late night on Saturday Night Live.

All that was left was for me to try it.

The counter employee was unusual--she was actually willing to give me a recommendation, since the menu choices were a little difficult for a newbie. Did we want the sausage or the beef? There was a combo available--should we get it?

"The beef," she said, without hesitation. "Do you want peppers?"

"I don't know," I said. "What's usual?"

She quickly reeled off three words. "Peppers, provolone, dipped."

"Do it," I said.

So, eight napkins and one dry cleaning bill later, what's the verdict?

For the uninitiated, Italian beef is spiced roast beef that has been thinly shaved. It's piled into a roll, with peppers and cheese added, then the whole thing, bun and all, can be dipped into the beef broth. Yep. French Dip may be a classier presentation, but it's hard to beat this for flavor.

Beyond that, my only recommendations are that it's best eaten hot, and don't wear good clothes when you order one. Oh, and at this location, anyway, you should be prepared to stand at a wide counter while you eat--it's not the kind of sandwich you are going to sit and lean back over anyway.

Those are your first rules if you are going to venture into the world of eating an Italian Beef sandwich. It's pretty simple to go after something that has been rated one of the best sandwiches in America.

So, while the dipped or not dipped debate rages on in some circles, I'm just gonna eat.

More napkins, please.