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TLO Restaurant Review: Cal’s Chicago Style Eatery

With Reservation Dogs put to golden pastures last season, I finally started watching the critically acclaimed FX series The Bear. Set in a Chicago eatery, it dives into the lives of the people who make it, for the most part, work.

Prodded by the show’s eclectic soundtrack—R.E.M. is back on the charts, it seems!—the mating call of culinary triumphs and the behavioral strife in a lowdown Chi-town kitchen being transformed into a world-class establishment is actually pretty good viewing for food fans of all kinds.

As I finished the new season, I couldn't help but wonder about The Bear's beginnings with real Italian beef sandwiches and, even more, how to get some.

That's when I learned about Cal’s Chicago Style Eatery.

Located at 7005 Northwest Expressway—a mere 797 miles from Chicago—I don’t know if this is a “real” Second City eatery, but it’s got some of the tastiest—and spiciest!—sandwiches I've had in these parts.

My girlfriend and I went last Friday for a late lunch.

When we walked in, orders were coming fast and hot. The crowd (and staff) wasn't as profane as on The Bear, but people were definitely waiting for a taste of their sausage and beef—something that makes my mouth water at just the mere mention of it.

At the counter, I gave them our order and waited around twenty minutes to be served. Normally, I’d comment on the wait, but the sheer number of customers in line justified it. Unlike The Bear, Oklahomans are more forgiving about things like customer queues and such.

We started with the tangy Pickle Fries ($6.99).

Unlike the standard pickle slices you get at most establishments, Cal's serves thinly-cut pickle spears, which is how it should always be done. Doused in a breaded batter, generously seasoned with briny salt, they are much better than the fast-food versions. I would definitely order them again.

Before the night Chicago died—brother, what a night it really was!—my girlfriend made a pit stop in Philly with the Classic Philly ($10) sandwich. It featured shredded steak, grilled green peppers, mushrooms, and onions, cooked with “Cal's mushroom signature sauce,” and topped with melted American cheese.

I guess Philadelphia isn’t too far from Chicago because this is a truly sturdy sandwich! While I didn’t see the traditional Cheez-Whiz—apparently a Philly staple—the mixture of well-done steak and semi-hot peppers, along with Cal’s mushroom sauce, really got her motor running as the melted cheese slid down her sandwich.

Now it was my turn, as the ready-for-prime-time sandwich, the Italian Beef & Sausage ($12.99), got top billing. It’s got Italian beef on top of a spicy Italian sausage, double-timed with hot giardiniera peppers on a French roll. Look out—it’s a touchdown, as the establishment’s posters reminded me.

And what can I say…this feels like a real Chicago sandwich, as seen on TV!

The Italian beef and spicy sausage worked total overtime for me. Combined with the hot peppers, it was a distinctive hot sausage that gave me a moment to pause as I drank some cold ice water. But, in the end, it feels like a real macho sandwich you would eat with Mike Ditka.

And though I was more than satisfied with my meal, I still had to try the Triple Berry Tart ($4.99), which looked pretty sweet, although I assumed it was going to be a small, portable cherry tart.

How wrong was I! It was made from scratch with the best berries in the business, including blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, with fresh apple bits, all cradled in a warm, flaky homemade crust. I don’t know if it was an authentic Italian treat, but abbondanza, it’s the real thing!

Cal’s Chicago Style Eatery really hits the spot for both quality lunches and made-for-TV entertainment. Now, if someone would make a television series about an Oklahoman chef who makes NDN tacos and takes them to a new dramatic level, we’d be talking...but I still would like R.E.M. on the soundtrack, please.

Cómpralo ya!

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