Wednesday Warm-Up: Bridgeport's Fabulous Freddies

January 20, 2010

The Italian beef and meatball sandwiches from Fabulous Freddie's
The Italian beef and meatball sandwiches from Fabulous Freddie's

As some of you know by now, I'm in the midst of a month-long search for winter comfort; the kinds of dishes that make you want to throw on your pajamas and take a nap after eating.‚  So far this month on ABC 7, I've featured the fried chicken and updated tuna casserole at Hearty, then dug into the Hawaiian-influenced "urban luau" Sunday dinners at Sola.‚  Today, I'm headed to Bridgeport: land of countless Daley cronies, die-hard Sox fans and some of the largest sandwiches I've ever seen, compliments of Fabulous Freddie's on 31st St.

The portal to Italian sandwich bliss
The portal to Italian sandwich bliss

The Bertucci family business has been a mainstay in the neighborhood for 20 years, (they also have a new store in West suburban Lyons) and their Italian beef is certainly worth a try: not only is the beef roasted in-house, cooled, hand-trimmed and then sliced the width of a newspaper before entering an oily, juicy bath of gravy/jus/drippings, but the accompanying sweet bell peppers and hot giardiniera are also top-notch. Unlike other beef stands, Freddie's serves their beef in two different sizes: regular and gargantuan.‚  Another homemade gem: the hand-formed meatballs, made by the Bertucci's matriarch. Once baked-off, they are gently placed into a thickish Italian loaf, then coated in a chunky, tomato-laden marinara that I could easily eat solo.

They also offer a breaded steak, which reminded me of the country-fried steaks I had seen in Texas Hill Country, except instead of smothering the tenderized, rolled-out, egg-dipped, breaded and lightly fried beef tenderloin in chicken gravy - as they do in Texas - these breaded steaks are picked up with giant tongs, and literally dunked beneath the surface of that chunky marinara/gravy. Sweet or hot peppers are offered as a textural contrast. If you don't find these sandwiches filling and utterly satisfying, you're not really a Chicagoan, at least according to me.

(Speaking of Italian sandwiches, but on a completely separate note: if you're ever in Philadelphia, be sure to make the pilgrimage to John's Roast Pork. Not only do their Philly cheesesteaks make legends Pat's and Geno's look like White Hen, but their one-of-a-kind Pork Italian is worth the airfare alone: thinly-sliced pork shoulder, rubbed with garlic, pepper and spices; roasted in the back, then piled onto sesame seed-studded Italian loaves along with provolone and broccoli rabe.‚  Kudos to my wife for schlepping one back for me on the airplane last night).