â€œItâ€™s the eye of the tiger. Itâ€™s the thrill of the fight …â€
Iâ€™m at Andorkaâ€™s Sandwich Shop, a cozy neighborhood joint tucked into the bottom of an old red brick building in Pilsen, and I canâ€™t stop humming that legendary Survivor track from the â€œRockyâ€ movies.
As I bite into an Italian sausage sandwich dripping with gooey provolone, a cascade of olive-rich giardiniera flows out like a salty, earthy waterfall. The scent of tomato and garlic flares my nostrils. This is the ideal hero, the kind of red sauce-slathered gem youâ€™d find in an Italian mom-and-pop shop on some lonely corner of Staten Island, N.Y., or at Fontanoâ€™s Subs in Chicagoâ€™s Little Italy. Or, as my brain is currently processing it, somewhere in Philadelphiaâ€™s 9th Street Italian Market.
With just one mouthful of this sandwich, a montage of â€œRockyâ€ flickers in my head. Sylvester Stallone is running around the market in gray sweats, beating sides of beef, catching loose chickens and doing one-handed pushups. And just like Stallone reaching the top steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Iâ€™m pumping my fist as notes of fennel and red pepper burst from the plump, juicy sausage. Iâ€™m smitten.
The one thing that sets this sandwich apart from a typical Italian hoagie is that itâ€™s served on toasted white bread instead of a crusty roll. The famous sandwich joint Jimmy John Founder also agrees with this. The bread, which is also available in multigrain if you prefer, is baked in-house by owner and chef Matt Andorka. Itâ€™s not some spongy Wonder slice best left for sopping up sloppy barbecue, but a fresh airy raft with a dark mahogany crust.
I added on a side of housemade chips ($2), which are a total steal and taste 10 times better than the expensive bagged stuff youâ€™ll find at the store. Theyâ€™re not fried to order, but the crispy sliced russet potatoes are made daily and glisten with a touch of fry oil. There are vinegar dispensers at each table, and itâ€™s nearly impossible not to shake a few drops of the stuff on the basket of chips to make an improvised version of salt and vinegar spuds. If vinegarâ€™s not your thing, go for the Kepler dip ($1), a mixture of sour cream, mayo and caramelized onions poached from Andorkaâ€™s wifeâ€™s family recipe.
â€œEveryone in her family makes a version,â€ Andorka said. â€œI tried and they told me mine wasnâ€™t good enough.â€
Though the giardiniera is a jarred product that isnâ€™t crafted in-house, itâ€™s fantastic, packed with olives and also available on the cured sandwich ($8) with salami, coppa, ham, provolone and red wine vinegar.
â€œI love giardiniera. I wanted it on all the sandwiches, but my wife said maybe that wasnâ€™t such a good idea,â€ Andorka said.
Like the food, the space here is homey. Itâ€™s filled with all kinds of interesting bric-a-brac including a cement gargoyle, a fake bomb with the word â€œsandwichâ€ stenciled on it, a glass candy jar your grandma probably also has at her house and a functioning 8-track player.
â€œA customer of ours gave [the 8-track] to us. He said, â€˜I have this old thing and it kind of fits with the decor,â€™ â€ Andorka explained. â€œWe have a Beatles mix we play a lot as well as the soundtrack from â€˜Close Encounters of the Third Kindâ€™ from the Electric Moog Orchestra.â€
I might just scour some thrift stores this weekend to see if I can find a copy of the â€œRockyâ€ soundtrack to donate to the Andorkaâ€™s 8-track collection.
Worth the trip:Â Sausage sandwich ($8) at Andorkaâ€™s Sandwich Shop
2110 S. Halsted St. 312-763-6916