Chicago's Gravy Bread Is The Doughy Creation You Need To Try

Chicago is one of the most celebrated culinary hubs in the United States, with over 50 James Beard Award-winning restaurants, chefs, and dining experiences. For locals, however, the most beloved staples of Chicagoan cuisine have historical and humble roots. A case in point is the Italian beef sandwich, originating in the 1930s as a way for Italian immigrant families to use every last scrap of beef, reviving stale bread in the process. Similar to the French Dip, the Italian beef sandwich bread comes submerged in the flavorful gravy used to tenderize the tougher cuts of roast beef.

Gravy bread is an extension of the Italian beef sandwich for those who love a beef-soaked Italian hoagie roll. True to its name, gravy bread is just the sandwich roll, once known as French bread, that has been doused in the roast beef gravy used to dip the sandwich. The roll may look like a sad, soggy accident, but it has become a staple at beef sandwich carts and restaurants alike. The juicy, saturated bread becomes doughy and embedded with flavorful shreds of beef.

Gravy bread is a side dish that's always on the menu anywhere Italian beef sandwiches are sold, whether it's hot dog stands or the longstanding Italian beef sandwich shops that have been around for decades. They often come with stuffed with sweet, grilled peppers or pickled giardiniera, making them a great starter or a comforting snack.

History and background of gravy bread

While there's no one person credited with gravy bread, the family-owned sandwich shop, and supposed inventor of the sandwich, Al's #1 Italian Beef claims to have sold them for 10 cents as an after-school snack for children. The trend spread as Italian beef sandwiches garnered more popularity and more sandwich shops began to open around the city. Gravy bread remains a cheap side, costing less than a dollar at most stands.

Of course, the practice of soaking bread in gravy or flavorful liquid is as old as time, inspiring countless recipes from bread pudding, to French toast, to the iconic Southern dish biscuits and gravy. There's even an Appalachian gravy bread that dates back to the Pennsylvania Dutch and remains a beloved comfort food. However, biscuits and gravy and Appalachian gravy bread are popular homemade meals or snacks eaten with a fork or spoon. While you can easily make a delicious slow-cooker Italian beef sandwich, and for that matter gravy bread, at home, both the sandwich and gravy bread are more associated with fast food stands. Furthermore, gravy bread is never eaten with utensils. The awkward, dripping mess that spills onto your shirt or the ground is half the fun of eating it!