The Bread Is As Essential As The Meat When It Comes To Italian Beef

Ah, Chicago — the land of steel, smoke, and sandwich supremacy. Among the city's culinary treasures, the Italian beef stands tall as a monument to flavor and history. But let's not kid ourselves — behind this meaty marvel lies a crucial element, an unsung hero (and, no, that's not the hero or gyro) — it's the Italian-style hoagie roll.

Picture this: tender, thinly sliced, slow-roasted beef topped with spicy giardiniera, roasted sweet peppers, and maybe even a couple of slices of melted provolone. And for this experience to be as divine as intended, the choice of roll is paramount. The Italian-style hoagie roll is sturdy and crusty, with just enough chewiness. The way the robust roll gives way to juicy, tender beef is a perfect marriage of textures. And in the Windy City, one bakery reigns supreme when crafting the quintessential Italian-style hoagie roll — Gonnella. They have that golden, crusty exterior that gives a satisfying crunch with each bite, yet inside, they're pillowy soft — ideal for cradling the savory fillings.

If you're not in the Chicagoland area and can't get your hands on a Gonnella roll, don't sweat it; you can still enjoy an Italian beef. Look for a good quality Italian-style hoagie roll with only a somewhat pliant crust and a nice light crumb inside. You don't want a soft roll, as that would fall apart under the onslaught of the delicious gravy inherent to an Italian beef.

Dry, Wet, or Dipped, the bread remains the same

When ordering Chicago's Italian beef, you want to know how to order, lest an annoyed local behind the counter make decisions on your behalf. There are variations to how the sandwich is assembled and unique jargon that allows you to get the sandwich you prefer. 

When ordering an Italian beef "dry," the beef is served with as little juice as possible. The counter person will remove the beef from the pan with tongs and pause to let the juice drain. It could be argued that with this style, the hoagie roll is less structurally crucial, but it still makes the perfect home for all that beef. For a "wet" Italian beef, the beef and its juices go directly onto the hoagie roll, soaking it in all the flavors and enhancing the overall taste. An Italian hoagie roll has the structural integrity to hold up to this juicy affair, and the pillowy insides drink up the juice while the crust keeps everything together. "Dipped" is the heavyweight of the Italian beef world. The entire sandwich is submerged in the meat juices, a true baptism of flavor. The hoagie roll, robust and unyielding, stands up to this dousing and remains a steadfast companion to the beef.

The Italian-style hoagie roll is more than just a humble bread — it's the cornerstone of the iconic Italian beef sandwich. It's the sturdy soldier in a meaty battle, and without it, the sandwich wouldn't be the same.