Recently, I posted on Facebook how my dad had worked at Continental Can Company and I surprised to find– within a few hours– that several of my high school classmates had dads who also worked there. All my life I thought my dad was the only one, especially because most dads commuted via the train to downtown Chicago. While Dad had started his career at the Chicago plant on the south side of the city, he moved to one near our home at some point and drove there each day.
And growing up, I also thought that my family was the only one that Italian beef sandwiches. I know all my Chicago friends are laughing but these were the days when there were just a few Portillo's locations (I think just the one Mom would take us to about once a year- on Butterfield in Downers Grove). When we had a family gathering for a birthday, a first communion, a graduation, or Christmas, my dad drove to Addison and came home with a big container of Italian beef. Saturday morning he would come home from Dominick's with several long loaves of French bread. And sometimes he did this on a Saturday night just because it was one of his favorite meals.
And yet I didn't know anyone else who ate Italian beef even though we sometimes would stop at Bonos– a few miles away– for sandwiches instead of making them at home.
As Portillo's grew, so did the availability of Italian beef. At the end of my dad's life, no long did he have to drive to Addison for the big tubs of it (I'm not even sure why he went there). And because we could get the sandwiches dipped in the juice, no longer were we chastised by him for not spooning it on rather than dipping our bread in the juice (which drove him nuts, but I continued to do it, urged on by Mom who didn't think there was another way to get the bread as sopping wet).
A week ago, I flew home with several tubs of gravy and vacuumed packed packages of meat for a party at my house this past weekend. I had done this once a long time ago– introducing my New Mexican friends to the Italian beef sandwich– but my life has changed and it was time to do it again for all the new people in my life.
I added potato salad, as my parents would have done, and set to showing everyone how to make the sandwiches, complete with dipping the bread in the juice. The only thing missing? Mom's jello mold.