The next paragraph of this post contains a bold and speculative claim about a sandwich, but I need you to understand that it is not an unresearched one. I worked in a deli, making sandwiches, for three years. At my last job, I regularly wrote sandwich reviews. I have traveled to 42 states and 20 countries and eaten sandwiches in most of them. I know sandwiches, I promise.
And the breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene’s in Chicago is the best sandwich in the world. Mark it down.
When ordered with mozzarella cheese and hot giardiniera — those are important — the sandwich presents a combination of flavors and textures that bests every single one of the thousands of other sandwiches I’ve sampled in my 34 years.
The primary ingredient, the eponymous breaded steak, is exactly what it sounds like. But even by the high standards we hold for fried steak, it’s amazing — piping hot, remarkably tender, and with a perfectly seasoned, tasty breading that somehow maintains some crispiness even when it’s slathered with the sweet tomato sauce that complements it perfectly.
The cheese adds some saltiness, some gooey texture, and works to bind together a very messy mix of ingredients (though somewhat inadequately). The giardiniera — a relish of pickled vegetables — adds some crunch and a vinegary heat that seems to amplify all the other delicious flavors in the sandwich. And the soft, fresh hero roll is somehow up to the challenge of containing this very sloppy sandwich without being too bulky.
Straight up: It’s a perfect sandwich. And so while I recognize the haunting fact that somewhere out there, someplace I’ve never been and someplace I might never be, there could be a sandwich as good as this one, I am unwilling to believe there are any sandwiches distinctly better than this one. That’s why I feel comfortable calling it the best sandwich there is.
And though Ricobene’s was hopping last Saturday night, my most recent visit, it seems like not even proud Chicagoans appreciate the true greatness that’s in their midst. Chicago’s a great sandwich town, no doubt — part of a holy trinity of American sandwich cities with New York and New Orleans.
But while many of the Windy City’s sandwich offerings are undoubtedly delicious, none of several I have sampled comes anywhere close to Ricobene’s breaded steak, which, again, is perfect. And that perfect sandwich failed to rank on Chicagoist’s list of top 25 sandwiches, or on a CBS Chicago list of best sandwiches in 2010 or 2012, or on top Chicago sandwich lists compiled by Thrillist and Zagat.
It did rank 12th in a 2012 Chicago magazine survey of top sandwiches, but I find it difficult to believe there are 11 other perfect sandwiches in one city. And I can attest, as a reviewer of sandwiches, that interesting and particularly photogenic sandwiches often receive undue praise because of the way they make the sandwich reviewer’s job easier, and are not necessarily rewarded for deliciousness alone.
I do not consider this post a mere endorsement of the sandwich. It’s more of an obligation. Because I now know sandwich perfection, I feel that it’s my duty to sing the gospel of breaded steak to the people. You need to enjoy this sandwich. Go forth and do so.
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