ARMOUR SQUARE— The guys in the kitchen at Ricobene's toyed with the idea for years, messing around with a combination of steak and dough and cheese and sauce — but they never got it right.
But last week, something finally clicked and the breaded steak pizza has, finally and gloriously, been unveiled to the dining public.
And it's already a smash hit.
"We sold 40 [the day it debuted May 16] and a couple hundred over the weekend. One guy bought two pizzas then came back for another four," said Rosario Ricobene, co-owner and heir to the throne of the famous South Side restaurant at 252 W. 26th St.
Casey Cora tells us exactly where all of our pizza prayers can now be answered:
Loyal to his family secrets, Ricobene, 34, wouldn't divulge the exact recipe for the pizza or allow photos of its preparation, only saying that it's topped with hand-trimmed hunks of steak breaded with a special blend of crumbs.
"That's a lot of steak on that pizza. Now it's getting the full flavor of the steak sandwich," he said.
The only toppings they'll allow are sweet peppers, giardiniera or jalapenos — just like the sandwich.
"I want to keep the integrity of the breaded steak sandwich. I think it's only right," he said.
Along with his brother Sam Jr. and mother Catherine, Ricobene oversees the business, which began as a produce cart established by his Italian immigrant grandparents, Rosario and Antonia, in 1946.
When vegetable sales slumped in the colder months, the elder Rosario Ricobene introduced hot meatball and sausage sandwiches that proved popular in the largely Italian-American enclave.
It wasn't until 1974 that Rosario's sons Sam, Frank and Russell introduced to the menu their own spin on the breaded steak sandwich. Places like Sarah's, La Milanese and Uncle Johnny's already served their own acclaimed versions of the uniquely South Side staple.
But those joints are history.
And while the neighborhood is flush with breaded steak sandwich choices — you can find different versions of the sandwich at Fabulous Freddie's on 31st, Mangia Fresca, Punky's Pizza and Pasta, Kathy De's Deli, Gio's Cafe and Deli, Johnny O's and Ferro's — none can lay claim to the breaded steak pizza.
"We pay a big price to make it, and our profit isn't too much on the pizza," Ricobene said. "But I truly enjoy people sitting down and eating my food, giving me the thumbs-up and saying 'good job.'"
The breaded steak pizza is available at the introductory price of $19.99 for a whole pie, or by the slice — if there's any left.