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$20 Dinner

$20 Dinner: Bobbi’s Italian Beef Brings Chicago’s Famous Messy Monsters to Smith Street

This beef will have you saying those magic two words.

Half a pastrami 'n Swiss melt, on a white piece of butcher paper.

Half a pastrami ‘n Swiss melt, $11 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

It's kind of surprising that it took this long for someone to open a new Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwich shop here in NYC. Last summer, we all feasted on the meme-machine series “The Bear,” which put the meaty beasts front and center in every episode.

Yes, sales of the sandwich boomed in the city's existing Chicago-y places like Dog Day Afternoon in Windsor Terrace, but as far as we can tell, Bobbi's Italian Beef, which launched last weekend in Cobble Hill, is the first brand new spot dedicated to these soggy monsters since the smoldering dirtbag Carmy had everybody shouting "Yes, Chef!"

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

And, oh man, are they good here. "I make my own beef," Bobbi's chef-owner Jason Lux told Hell Gate on the shop's opening weekend. "It takes me four days." After all the seasoning and simmering, rubbing and roasting, the meat gets sliced up super thin, plopped back into its jus for soaking, and, when you order it, piled into a soft hero roll Lux gets from that Carroll Gardens treasure Mazzola Bakery.

But we're not done yet! Lux's house-made hot giardiniera comes next, all fiery and acidic (you can get yours with sweet peppers instead if you want, but why would you want to do that?), and then the whole thing gets drenched once again in jus. Pick it up and wolf it down. It's an absolute mess, and it's absolutely delicious. 

Italian beef sandwich, $19 whole (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

And Bobbi's is no one-hit-wonder; the menu here is long and loaded with bangers. The two parm sandwiches, one with meatballs, the other with chicken tenders, which Lux hand-breads and bakes rather than deep fries, are total cheese bombs. The pastrami sandwich is made from belly meat and is a fatty delight, covered in gobs of melted swiss and good, grainy mustard.

Chicago dog, $8 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There's a Brooklyn Muffuletta, a "roast beef ranch melt," and, the only non-meat sandwich option, a caprese hero with mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. These things are huge, cost $19 or $20, and can all be ordered as a half or a whole. The obvious move is to split a whole one and get a couple ancillary dishes as well, like the excellent celery salt tots (also baked, not fried), or a Chicago Dog, made with a snappy Vienna Beef frank dragged through the garden.   

Lux serves a Bagel Dog, which is basically one of the Vienna Beef beauties encased in baked bagel dough. But next time, I'm trying that chili cheese dog instead.

Sausage personal pan pizza, $12 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There's also pizza at Bobbi's, though Lux neatly skirts the NYC/Chicago battleground on this issue (a contest we’d always winm anyway) by going the personal pan route. "It's not Chicago deep dish, it's not New York style, it's not Neapolitan," he said. "You know what the secret is? I actually use the original pans from Pizza Hut." So I guess it's Kanas style? Whatever it is, this is good stuff, baked in garlic butter, cheese on the bottom and top, with bright tomato sauce, gloppy as hell. 

Lux, in backward cap, works the Sunday supper crowd (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Draft beer is coming as soon as Lux secures his license, but in the meantime (or instead) get a can of RC Cola, the classic sugary soda that's a rare sight in the city these days. The place is comfortable and fun, too. Lux makes for an affable host, the laminated plastic booths are spacious, the tables feature one-of-a-kind designs by his buddies over at Brooklyn Tattoo (you can buy stickers of some of the details for a buck each at a vending machine by the door), and the soundtrack is 80s hits from the likes of Depeche Mode and Missing Persons. 

Lux, by the way, didn't just parachute in from the Windy City yesterday to stuff our faces this winter. "I moved here a week before September 11," he said. "Chicago, New Orleans, Portland, New York... I've been around the block, but someone blessed me with hands that can cook." And his other two NYC ventures have been seafood spots: he's the owner of the party place Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook, and he spent six years running Fulton Landing in the Dekalb Market Hall before it shuttered during the pandemic.     

Needless to say, we're stoked that he skipped the fish this time and went full Second City on us with Bobbi's Italian Beef. Lux seems happy too. "To bring beef to the masses, and the Chicago hot dog, and keeping the Vienna name alive...This is from my heart."  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Bobbi's Italian Beef is located at 228 Smith Street, between Butler and Douglass Streets (it's the only business on the block right now, squeezed between two construction sites), and is currently open from Tuesday through Sunday from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. Closed Mondays.

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