It’s a funny thing, but I miss getting stuck in traffic. Maybe it’s my default mode that favors a regular routine, or maybe it’s just fatigue from staying at home after all this time. Whatever the case may be, sitting behind a line of about eight cars on Manchester Road at Brentwood Boulevard at 5pm on Friday evening brought back some semblance of normal to my life.
To be fair, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anything “normal” in our world today, as we continue to push through the effects of a global pandemic and the unrest spurred by social injustice in the US. Maybe things aren’t suppose to feel normal right now. Maybe that’s okay. Yet, on a cloudy Saturday in south St. Louis, it felt like it was time to get back in the saddle and try something “normal” again. It felt like it was time for my 8th sandwich review. And I knew exactly where I was headed.
Vinnie’s on Ivanhoe is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to sandwich shops around these parts; if you’re looking for just a basic cold cut sub, then this place probably isn’t for you. A look up and down the menu you will bounce from Chicago Dogs to Greek salads, from meatball subs and Ruebens and Philly cheese steaks to Gyros and pitas and Tzatziki sauce. In short, Vinnie’s brings an authentic taste of Chicago with a Greek-style twist. And they like it that way.
Walking into Vinnie’s felt a little bit like walking back into time. The sandwiches are hand-made on the grill adjacent to the counter. The tables (limited to outside only today) are each topped with a table cloth. The walls are donned with flyers of neighborhood businesses and the menu is written on a chalk board above the cash register. Maybe it’s all of these things, or maybe it’s the old school, non-pretentious feel of the Lindenwood Park neighborhood in general. But whatever it is, I feel like I’m in for a treat today.
Vendor: Vinnie’s on Ivanhoe
Sammie: Italian Beef
Bread: “Crusty bread” hoagie roll
- Sliced roast beef
- Provolone cheese
- Peppers and onions
- “Dipped in juice”
Despite being only a 5 minute drive home, I was anxious as hell to dive into the Italian Beef Sandwich, one of Vinnie’s signature items. To my delight, my sandwich is still perfectly hot after tearing away the layers of tin foil that swaddled it. The bread is soft – not particularly flakey, but not mushy either. The first bite is an instant jolt of roast beef and au jus sauce (or simply “the juice”) to the taste buds. The beef is cut extra thin but layered on and definitely not lacking any of that rich flavor. The bread and cheese have been made so soft by the au jus that they seem to just melt and roll together with every bite. The onions and pepper give it a slight crunch, but don’t really stand out from a flavor perspective.
After the second or third bite I get the slightest of aftertaste of bitter spiciness, no doubt from the giardiniera spread on top. Any place that serves up hot sandwiches with giardiniera is going to immediately score points with me. However, this spread runs a bit more mild than I would have expected. The combo of olive oil and pepper-like tastes compliments the beef well. My only complaint is that it could have brought even a little more kick, either from the giardiniera or the grilled peppers mixed in to really put it over the top.
As I make my way into the second half of this Chicago classic, I still haven’t been able to pin down the bread. The bread is clearly fresh, and the center has been made soft by the juicy beef in the center. However this “crusty bread” has a little less crust to it than I expected. Rather than breaking off in tiny flakes at the top, this bread has kept its consistent softness throughout. I can only image how this would taste on a French baguette rather than the hoagie roll. At the end of the day I can’t complain though, as I found myself scarfing down my second half and wanting more. Well played, Vin…