RIVER NORTH — A group of businessmen (and women) next month will decide which restaurant serves the best Italian Beef in River North, and they're going to do it the only way they know how.
Brian Burkhart, president and "chief word guy" of River North-based consulting firm SquarePlanet, has rounded up a group of about 15 entrepreneurs and others who will choose between Al's Italian Beef, Mr. Beef and Portillo's during next month's contest.
Why? Burkhart said SquarePlanet's offices sit near all three restaurants, but he has yet to pick a favorite for taking clients and other visitors. As a lifelong Chicagoan now living in Old Town, Burkhart feels his time to choose has come.
"It's one of those things that's well overdue," he said. "I'm embarrassed."
The Beef-Off will start at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14 at Portillo's, 100 W. Ontario St. The group, which will be recording and live-tweeting its gluttony, will then head west to Al's, 169 W. Ontario, and end at Mr. Beef, 666 N. Orleans St. Judges will be paired off and obligated to make the same order at each restaurant, for scientific control.
Judges will then grade their sandwich one-through-five on criteria including meat texture, bread quality, and size-to-cost ratio. They'll add up and average out the results for overall scores. And as of now, the restaurants have no idea this contest is happening.
"We're just going to show up and cause some trouble," Burkhart said.
Italian beef sandwiches originated in Chicago, and remain a city staple in the same ilk as stuffed pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. A simple Google search yields a trove of articles steering sandwich seekers to restaurants throughout the city, and there's even an entire website solely dedicated to Italian Beefs.
Justin Breen says don't go to the site on an empty stomach:
But Patrick Tannous, president of Tiesta Tea Company and other Beef-Off judge, thinks a tasting tour will be more fun than a Google search.
"I can’t wait, man," he said. "Beef, dip, hot peppers; that’s what I’m all about."
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