Best Thing I Ate This Week: Italian Beef from Sammich & Treats from the Gastro Obscura Vending Machine
There’s one sandwich at aptly named shop Sammich (2137 E Burnside St) that gets all the attention: the pastrami. Admittedly, I haven’t tried it yet. But as someone who briefly lived in Chicago, the city that Sammich owner Melissa McMillan proudly hails from (with Cubs flags hanging all over the establishment), I was desperate to try their Italian beef. It’s one of those sandwiches that has me longing for a city whose food I miss deeply, despite the fact that the place blasted me with -20 degree windchill.
I’ve heard many people liken Italian beef to a French dip, but to me, the end result couldn’t be any more different. I find French dip sandwiches one-note and heavy—why dip the fatty beef and cheese into more beef juice? But Italian beef, to me, is all about balance: fatty beef, simple bread dipped into beef juices, vinegary giardinera to provide heat and cut the richness, and sweet peppers that entice you to eat another bite.
It’s also a balance that, in my opinion, is easily disrupted when you add cheese (as Sammich gives you the option to do), or when you add sausage (not an option at Sammich, but often seen in Chicago). I like my sandwich dipped, which means the bread gets dunked into beef juice before serving—though it does make for a messy eating experience. Most of the best things you’ll eat will make your fingers greasy, anyway. Sammich’s bread is crisper than most I’ve found in Chicago, so it stands up to the beef juice well, and can even take extra juice poured on top.
After lunch, I walked a few doors down to (2225 E Burnside St) to visit the Gastro Obscura vending machine, which is nestled next to the 24-hour Pix-O-Matic pastry vending machine, and will be in town through Thanksgiving weekend. Gastro Obscura, as you might recall, is a follow up to Atlas Obscura, co-written by Portlander Cecily Wong.
The machine is organized by regions of the world, focusing on their culinary traditions, histories, recipes, and oddities. It's full of things you’ll find in the book, many of which I haven’t seen at other specialty food shops. (Yes, I am one of those people who likes to go grocery shopping for fun.) Among the offerings: musk stick candy, made from the same deer musk you’d find in old lady-smelling perfume; Korean aloe marmalade; Japanese black garlic; canned haggis; Moroccan almond butter with argan oil; miracle berries that make sour things taste sweet.
I opted for Lavi, a brand of spicy Haitian peanut butter made with scotch bonnet chilis, a jar of Bradford watermelon rind pickles (the Bradford variety is an heirloom melon from the South, super-sweet and thin-skinned), and a little jar of Tupelo honey from Georgia. But I’ll probably head back this weekend, since gift ideas immediately began popping into my head: miracle berries for a sweet-toothed friend, Tupelo honey to pair with a cheese plate, and black garlic for my friend who’s always doctoring up instant ramen. I have more gift ideas here—because, as you might know, I maintain that food gifts are always the best gifts.