South Side Cheap Eats: Uncle Johnny's Grocery & Deli
By Chuck Sudo in Food on Oct 24, 2006 3:00PM
Few things epitomize South Side fast food like the breaded steak sandwich. During our years living out south, we've had too many of them to mention. They range in quality from succu-fuccu-lent works of art rivaling any steakhouse entree, to gluttonous monstrosities that serve as Exhibits "A" through "LMNOP" that obesity isn't a "glandular" problem.
Craving a breaded steak yesterday, but minding our renewed focus on eating smaller portions, we took a walk to Uncle Johnny's Grocery & Deli. Located in a corner storefront on 32nd and Normal, we got shivers walking in. With its antique wooden cooler, vintage deli display case, and meathooks on the ceiling that are now used for hanging extension cords, Uncle Johnny's is a throwback to the Chicago of our parents' childhood. They also worship at the temple of the King; Elvis memorabilia is littered throughout the store. We find it ironic in that, had Elvis discovered the pleasures of a breaded steak sandwich, it might have shaved five more years off his life. And the breaded steak sandwich they make at Uncle Johnny's veers deliciously close to the "work of art" category.
The "from scratch" process which the folks at Uncle Johnny's use for their breaded steak sandwich reminded us of the scene in Goodfellas where the gang was making dinner in prison. We could almost imagine Paul Sorvino somewhere in the back slicing garlic wax paper-thin with a razor blade. Once the order's placed, the cook mallets the steak to a thin, tender slice, breads the steak in the kitchen, then pan-fries the cut. She then hands it to the person at the counter, who adds the extras (always order a breaded steak with red sauce, mozzarella, and sweet peppers). We added a bag of chips and some Filbert's strawberry soda. At seven dollars, this is a steal of a meal. The breaded steak sandwich had a good size to it that won't expand your waistline. It wasn't obnoxiously thick, either; we could hold it in our hands without developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The steak itself was perfectly tender, with just the right amount of breading, cheese, and sauce. The one miscue in this sandwich was the bread, a doughy, bland submarine roll that was tougher to chew than the steak. This could be easily remedied with a little bit of toasting.
Uncle Johnny's also makes Italian beef sandwiches, Italian sausage, combos, regular steak sandwiches, po'boys, and salads. They sell their beef and sausage by the pound, but you need to give them some advance notice to have it ready. Between its "frozen in time" decor and the atention to detail they place in their cooking, we're gonna be back. Uncle Johnny's is located at 500 W. 32nd Street. Their phone number is 312-225-6111. Uncle Johnny's hours of operation are 7 a.m. through 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. Sunday.