No one's ever ventured to create a chef-driven, gourmet Italian beef stand, said BRGRBelly's Steve O'Brien. The secret is in the broth for O'Brien, who owns the two-restaurant burger operation formerly known as Leadbelly Burgers. He's got something new simmering with a third restaurant slated to open this fall in Jefferson Park. They're calling it BeefBelly, and O'Brien wants to serve the best Chicago-style Italian beef in town.
"We will respect the integrity of the traditional Chicago, classic Italian beef sandwich," O'Brien said.
The 70-seat spot at 4800 N. Central Ave., the former home of Central Kitchen and Tap in Jefferson Park, will feel a bit like BRGRBelly. They'll play classic rock, but instead of a rock 'n' roll theme for the interior, BeefBelly will focus on Chicago history, and the Italian beef sandwich certainly has a place. It's a South Side tradition, which took tougher, cheaper cuts of meat and slow roasted them in juices to help feed poor immigrants.
BeefBelly will likely use top sirloin, which is an upgrade compared to the traditional beef eye round. They'll also bake their own bread. Good bread's a tricky proposition, said O'Brien, and may be one of the reasons the Italian beef isn't imitated as often outside of Chicago compared to hot dogs and deep-dish pizza.
As mentioned, BeefBelly's broths are what O'Brien hopes sets them apart. They'll offer 10 different kinds including Asian-, Chipotle- and Adobo-spiced versions. Giardiniera won't be neglected, and besides the traditional hot and sweet peppers, BeefBelly will serve Asian and Mexican mixes with different spices and pickled vegetables. The Asian version won't be like kimchi, O'Brien advised, and customers will have to come in and try them. There will also be regional barbecue sauces, as both Carolina mustard and vinegar-based concoctions will be represented. Oh, and O'Brien promises "funky toppings," too.
Like BRGRBelly, they'll serve a variety of french fries, as well as salads, Italian sausages and chicken sandwiches. They're waiting on a liquor license so they can serve alcohol-infused homemade Italian ices. Prices haven't been set, but will be competitive with other beef houses, O'Brien said.
O'Brien drew a comparison to Hot Doug's, as mentioned by DNAinfo, which first reported the story. Doug's sausages are already fueling their own Italian beef revival, and O'Brien wants BeefBelly to do for Italian beef what Doug's did for hot dogs. But opening BeefBelly is a lot more adventurous for O'Brien compared to opening his burger spots.
"We're getting up on stage and we're going to say: 'Tell us if you love us or you don't,'" he explained. "We're rolling the dice on this a lot more than in the case of Leadbelly."