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Ricobene's Breaded Steak Sandwich Turns 40, Still 'Best In The World'

By Ed Komenda | July 1, 2016 6:15am | Updated on July 5, 2016 10:45am

BRIDGEPORT — Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich is the kind of lunch you order if you’re OK with getting a little red sauce on your shirt.

Every day at lunchtime you’ll find all manner of customers — from city workers to corporate suits — ordering up the neighborhood’s famed breaded steak sandwich at 252 W. 26th St.

“This is a unique Chicago sandwich,” said Sam Ricobene, Jr., the son of the man who created the beastly lunch.

This year the magically meaty South Side sandwich turned 40. But the legend of Ricobene’s famed specialty spanned the globe long before then.

USA Today sportswriter Ted Berg called it “the best sandwich in the world.” Celebrity world traveler, chef and writer Anthony Bourdain even featured the sandwich on his CNN series “Parts Unknown.

Ricobene, Jr. sat down with DNAinfo Chicago to chow down on the restaurant’s “king” version of the sandwich — four pounds of meat, red sauce, mozzarella cheese and few helpings of giardiniera — and shared the story of the beloved breaded steak.

“This is a huge sandwich,” Ricobene said. “I doubt you’ll eat this in one sitting.”

Ricobene’s grandparents, Rosario and Antonia, started the business in 1946 as a produce cart. When vegetable sales plummeted in the colder months, Rosario Ricobene rolled out hot meatball and sausage sandwiches.

The items were a hit in the largely Italian-American enclave, but it wasn't until 1976 that Rosario's sons Sam, Frank and Russell put their own spin on the breaded steak sandwich.

“My dad was the creative mind behind a lot of the food,” Ricobene said. “This is what he came up with.”

The most challenging thing about the bread steak sandwich is figuring out how to eat it.

“People will say, “How do you eat this?’” Ricobene said. “I’m like, ‘Well, it’s a sandwich. You use the bread.’”

Then customers ask, “You don’t have a fork?”

“Yeah,” Ricobene says, “but do you eat peanut butter and jelly with a fork? Pick it up.”

The restaurant eventually released a smaller version of the sandwich to allow customers a chance to actually finish their lunch. The “regular” breaded steak sandwich costs $5.49 while the “king” costs $8.49.

In the 1970s, other neighborhood joints like Sarah's, La Milanese and Uncle Johnny's already served their own versions of South Side sandwich. Those spots are all long gone.

Today 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.

Ricobene’s will serve “portion” sizes of the breaded steak sandwich at the Taste of Chicago.

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