Vito and Nick’s
8433 S. Pulaski Rd.
I just want you to know something — this gig isn’t as easy as it looks..
Do you think I even bother to write about a brown bag full of McDonald’s Dollar Menu cheeseburgers when the Golden Arches is the only place open at 1am?
Or the microwaved burritos from the dive bar adjacent to my Best Western?
Or the hot dogs on the little metal rollers behind the cash register at the airport smoking lounge?
Hell no. I only attempt to entertain you with my adventures when they are actually somewhat entertaining.
Most of my days are spent racing across town in a rental, dashing through airports, and having my private parts groped by TSA bureaucrats.
No, my life isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as I might lead you to believe.
And today was a perfect example.
I was in Chicago — one of my favorite cities to eat.
I was determined to squeeze a memorable dining experience into my already jam-packed itinerary with four meetings spread across the Chicagoland Metro region.
I just happened to recently catch an episode on the Food Network with that guy with the spiky hair featuring a popular and unique pizza joint that combines two of Chicago’s favorite delicacies: pizza and Italian beef.
Thanks to national chains like Uno’s, everyone knows about Chicago deep dish pizza, even though, not surprisingly, the real thing is much better than what you’ll eat at your local Uno’s.
But Italian beef is the lesser known Chicago specialty.
Chicago Italian beef is slowly marinated, tender shredded beef stuffed into a big sub roll.
I always get the “combo” which adds a link of Italian sausage to the sandwich.
Oh, you’ll also want to add another Chicago specialty – giardiniera.
Giardiniera — or giardineer, as they spell it at Vito and Nick’s — is a mix of celery and diced peppers, either sweet or hot depending on your tolerance and/or preference.
And the idea of adding both Italian beef and giardineer to a pizza sounded like the best invention since 2am pizza delivery.
As luck would have it, Vito and Nick’s just happened to be kind of on the way to one of my meetings in the southwest suburbs.
My only problem was convincing my colleague to give the place a try.
Coincidentally, he is a native Chicagoan.
But convincing him to try Italian beef on a pizza took a bit of persuasion.
“I love Chicago pizza. And I love Italian beef. But I’m not sure I want them together,” he complained.
My response was, “Dude. It’s going to be awesome. So we’re going.”
But when we arrived, I must admit, I started to have second thoughts.
The Food Network’s episode featured the place packed with pizza guys tossing wooden pizza boards through the air, frantically trying to keep up with the hordes of patrons lined out the door.
Our experience was very different.
Only two tables were occupied in the entire restaurant. And this was the noon “lunch rush.”
“This might not be a good sign,” I mumbled under my breath without letting my companion hear my self-doubt.
I mean usually when these places make national TV, you can’t even get near the place.
But it didn’t take long to figure out why no one comes here for lunch.
We placed our order of Italian beef pizza with Italian sausage and “mild giardineer” at the stroke of high noon.
By 12:40, it was time to hit the road for our 1pm meeting.
Just one minor problem.
We still didn’t have our pizza.
Holy crap. This is a working class neighborhood. Last time I checked, most people who work for a living don’t get more than an hour for lunch.
No wonder the place was empty.
Maybe Vito and Nick’s should relocate to the side of town where people don’t have jobs.
Or only open for dinner when people have time to wait two hours for a pizza.
Our pizza was just coming out of the oven when I told our waitress we had to go. So the pizza man boxed it up, I threw her a twenty and a ten (they don’t take credit cards), and we dashed out the door.
I tossed the pizza in the backseat of the car, tires squealing as we swerved onto Pulaski Road. I guess we’ll have to eat it cold after our meeting.
But by the time we got to the first traffic light, my colleague looked at me. I looked at him. We both turned and looked in the backseat where the most intoxicating aroma of our lives was emanating.
Stomach growing, I said, “I’m going in.”
“Hell yeah,” he said.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned around to open the box.
An absolute masterpiece.
Melted cheese, green giardineer, browned sausage and beef, crust charred perfectly on the edges.
I picked up the first piece.
The traffic light turned green. My friend hit the gas.
I tumbled into the backseat spilling Italian beef and giardineer all over his floorboards — and his suit coat hanging precariously just above the pizza box.
The sight, the smell and the taste of this pie was too much to resist.
In our 15-minute commute through suburban Chicago, we were going to eat that pizza. To hell with the dry cleaning bills.
This was one of the most extraordinary pizzas of my life.
The crust was thin and crispy and held up well, the Italian beef marinated in garlic, oregano, and basil was delicious with a smokey char from the oven.
The savory spices from the Italian sausage paired perfectly with the sweet, diced giardineer peppers.
Navigating Chicago traffic with his knees, my friend kept alternating bites between exclamations like, “This is unbelievable!”
“I never thought Italian beef on pizza could be this good!”
I was in total agreement.
We pulled up to our meeting — alive and well — at exactly 12:59.
We wiped ourselves down with more napkins, checked our teeth for any stray giardineer and popped some breath mints.
Who knew that eating backseat pizza while negotiating the streets of Chicago could be one of life’s best meals?
This traveling life might not be glamorous, but it’s definitely not boring.
Rating: Would Have Bought the Shirt — If We Had Time.