“The veal Parmesan hero from Rocco’s Pizzeria up the block from my parents’ house. My parents live five minutes from LaGuardia, and when I get picked up from the airport, there’s always one sitting on my mom’s stove. If it’s not there, my lazy ass has to walk up the block to get one.”
That’s Chicago chef Jason Paskewitz talking about one of his favorite sandwiches. If you don’t know Paskewitz, all you really need to know is he’s a brash dude and good cook who once threatened to “Chewbacca-slap” chef Ben Ford, son of Han Solo, aka Harrison Ford, when they competed together on a Food Network show.
Paskewitz’s quote is twelve years-old, but every once in a while, I still think about it, because when I remember hearing him describe this sub, I started drooling like a stroked-out Pavlovian puppy caged in the middle of beef dry-aging room.
I knew exactly what JP was talking about. As he described this delicious dose of portable heart disease, the kind of sandwich that you might choose over a great session of coitus, I thought of a similar eggplant parm sub I’d often had from a little joint located just off State street in Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor is obviously not a hot bed of Italian culinaria, but there was something about this spot. I can’t remember the name and it’s now long gone. But, what I do remember is that many times, drunk, sober, Monday night, Friday night, 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon, didn’t matter, I’d read that menu, call up the delivery number and spend the next thirty minutes anticipating the uncrinkling of wax paper and the ultimate mouth-sexing of that glorious hoagie.
When Paskewitz talked about Rocco’s, I couldn’t think of a place in Chicago that had a hot Italian sandwich which would provide a similar experience, and so I got sad. I’m not saying a sandwich like that didn’t exist. There are so many spots up on North Harlem, one was bound to have something similar. I just never found it. The bread at Bari was a little too crisp. At other places the sauce was too sweet. I loved the sausage served by former wrestler, Vito “Two Fingers” Fontaine at Nottoli and Son, but it wasn’t the Rocco’s/Ann Arbor sandwich.
I was pretty much unsatisfied for a long time, until yesterday, when I happened upon a place called Rosie’s Sidekick, located right behind Mi Tocaya near my house in Logan Square.
Rosie’s is a “sidekick” because it’s an offshoot of the almost 50-year-old Portage Park Italian bakery Sicilia. The bread for the sandwiches and the pastries, including cannoli, served at Rosie’s are baked daily at Sicilia.
I ordered a ton of stuff from Rosie’s and then headed to a bench to spread out the bounty on Logan Boulevard. Rosie’s eggplant parm was supremely slutty, the cheese oozing over the flaky bread and the sauce and juicy eggplant dripping out the edges. This was some serious Tony Soprano-shit.
I also ordered a meatball. It needed more salt. There was some minestrone soup. It also needed more salt. There was a delightful Italian Ho Ho, which is basically a Little Debbie Swiss cake roll jacked up on PEDS and sprinkled with pistachio.
And then there was a muffuletta. You know I have strong feelings about the muff sandwich and that every single one of those feelings leads back to Decatur street in New Orleans and Central Grocery, originator of the form. You may remember I loved the so called muffuletta at Tempesta Market, but because it was served on focaccia, it was not a muffuletta.
Rosie’s version is a muffuletta, served on an airy sesame seed-studded hubcap-sized loaf. When I ordered it at noon, it was good. But here’s the thing, if you want one of Chicago’s best sandwiches, buy it, keep it wrapped up, and sit on it for about six hours. The olive salad oil will scent the loaf, and the capicola, salami, and mortadella like Mary Magdalene perfuming the feet of Jesus.
Thanks to a ruined backpack which sports a 12” circular olive oil mark from the first time I smuggled muffuletta from New Orleans to Chicago via airplane, I knew that letting the sandwich sit was the play, but honestly, I didn’t think about it this time. The Rosie’s sandwich was so big, I just took a bite and put it away for later consumption.
This is because I’m now old. My 25-year-old self would punch me for saying this, but in the last year, in search of better health, I have significantly reduced my carb-intake. These days, I eat more vegetables than Peter Rabbit and his warren. But, when I took one bite of that now-marinated muffuletta, I couldn’t stop myself from sucking down a whole half, which is to say, I will not be able to declare myself anywhere near ketogenic for about 30 days.
With the opening of Tempesta and Rosie’s, Chicago now has a greater abundance of killer Italian deli. Rosie’s doesn’t have a market portion, but it does have a lot of sandwiches. Comparing the two, Rosie’s is basically Tony Danza to Tempesta’s Sophia Loren. One’s the boss, but the other is a countess. You can’t really go wrong.
Rosie’s Sidekick is located at 2610 N. California, 773.697.3000