F Brunch

Obsessed with The Bear? Here's Where to Find a Proper Italian Beef Sandwich in Seattle.

A deep-dish pizza destination in West Seattle has a juicy, dripping side hustle.

By Allecia Vermillion July 22, 2022

Coming (back) soon to West Seattle.

It seems like half my social media is currently devoted to the new FX and Hulu show The Bear—parsing how it depicts the often toxic, habitually intense camaraderie of life in a restaurant kitchen. Or thirsting over Jeremy Allen White, who plays the sometimes toxic, habitually intense protagonist chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto.

I humbly submit there’s another luminous beef situation in this show that merits discussion. Namely the Italian beef sandwiches that power these plotlines. Juicy piles of thin-shaved roast beef, slid au jus into a french roll and topped with giardiniera comprise a Chicago food icon, right up there with deep-dish pizza, jibaritos, and hot dogs dragged through the garden.

There’s exactly one place in Seattle that makes a proper version. And it’s…not open quite yet.

We mostly know West of Chicago Pizza Company for its deep-dish pies, available only for pickup from owner Shawn Millard’s commissary kitchen in Delridge. Millard mixed things up with the occasional Italian beef sandwich popup; tickets always sold out with ferocity. It’s the only Italian beef my Chicago-born husband has found that stands up to his memories of 312 staples like Mr. Beef (the inspiration for The Bear).

Millard recently closed his takeout kitchen to open a proper restaurant in the Junction that will serve his Italian beef on the regular. The opening remains in limbo, thanks to a water heater issue. But within the next week or two, Millard hopes he can finally provide us with a reliable font of beef sandwiches.

West of Chicago does it right. Millard starts with bottom round “the cheapest cut there is.” This is the modern day, Windy City version of Italy’s cucina povera after all, devised to feed blue-collar workers. He stabs it full of garlic, rubs it down with his own spice mix, oils it up like a wrestler, and roasts it up. The beef chills for at least eight hours afterward—to rest and get those juices distributed. It’s important for logistical reasons too, says Millard. “You can’t make it fresh out of the oven and think you’re going to get that nice paper-thin slice.”

His relationship to this bottom round is usually three days in by the time Millard slices his beef super thin. Meanwhile the drippings from that pan full of spicy, oiled-up beef bits has been Cinderella’d into au jus. He uses a pasta basket to drop that cold beef into its hot depths to warm it up just before serving. Like any proper purveyor of Italian beef, Millard serves his sandwiches dry (meat gets extracted from the jus with tongs), wet (a good bit of juice still shrouds the meat when you stuff it in the sandwich roll), or dipped (Chicago does not mess around).

Sandwiches come sweet—i.e., with sauteed green peppers—or hot, which means Millard breaks out the same Marconi brand hot giardiniera you find all over Chicagoland. He also orders the classic Turano rolls out of Illinois, the only ones purists consider sufficiently sturdy.

Millard dubbed his sandwich the Elwood, because Chicago has iconic cultural figures scattered around its sidewalks the way we have discarded electric scooters. When West of Chicago finally opens, he’ll only offer it for dine-in, since french rolls bearing the weight of beef doused in meat juice don’t exactly travel well.

Millard has stopped wearing his West of Chicago T-shirt around the neighborhood, since he gets inundated with questions about when his restaurant will open. But he hasn’t been using his involuntary downtime to binge The Bear.

“I’ve been keeping myself from watching it,” he says. The portrayal of kitchen life as a grease-spattered mental and emotional battlefield hits a little too close. “I’ve worked in some places that have left me with some serious PTSD.”

Millard has a very different energy in mind for his new kitchen, which will hopefully open soon. Keep tabs on West of Chicago's Instagram for updates.

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