One of my favorite columns after Savage Love is The Straight Dope, a decades-old column presided over by Cecil Adams in Chicago. Short description: Adams answers ANY question about ANYTHING. Recently, he branched off and began a separate column focusing solely on the Windy City. The latest installment deals with the lack of Chicago's homegrown Italian beef sandwiches on menus across the United States, at least as compared to other regional sandwiches with national followings like French dip sandwiches, Philly cheesesteaks, and gyros.
Adams' answer, however, is weak: using the example of Philly cheesesteaks, Adams writes, "Whereas any knucklehead can throw some chopped steak, onions, and what have you on the grill and douse it with cheese, to make a true Italian beef you need precision-crafted materials, preparation of which requires, no disrespect, an IQ of more than 1. Which is to say, if Italian beef is to spread beyond Chicago, fans of the sandwich can't simply expect outlanders to come up with imitations, which would doubtless be pathetic. They need to bring the product to the world."
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In other words: if you ain't from Chicago, you can't do the beef, a ridiculous assertion in our region, a world where Mexicans make sushi and Dexter Holland can create a salsa that bests the efforts of most wabs.
Then, Adams gets stupid.
He mentions that Portillo's, one of the bigger Chicagoland cuisne chains in the Midwest, opened two outlets in Southern California, one of which, of course, is in Buena Park. "One does of course wonder whether the employees will go native and start tricking out the sandwiches with avocados and tropical fruit. However, one presumes Portillo's emissaries have taken the oath sworn by western pioneers before crossing the alkali flats: if I become delirious, shoot me."
Cute, Cecil: using culinary clichés from the 1980s? Has Al Capone's boys been by your offices, lately?
Portillo's, 8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 220-6400; www.portillos.com.