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Gravy Bread Is A Chicago Classic, But What Is It?

Beef, au jus, and hoagie roll
Beef, au jus, and hoagie roll - Megan Betteridge/Shutterstock

Like most major cities, Chicago holds a high-standing reputation surrounding food. Whether you're checking out Navy Pier, catching a White Sox game, or riding the "L" to Wicker Park, most Windy City dwellers and tourists alike always seem to have room in their stomachs for deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. What's not to love about a mountain of marinara sauce and melted cheese served atop cornmeal crust or better yet, hot dogs served with a side of neon green relish, tomato slices, and pickle spears?

Yet, we can't mention Chicago food staples without paying homage to the Italian beef sandwich. While most Chi-town natives will gladly down a hoagie stacked with thinly sliced beef, au jus, and spicy giardiniera, only a select handful may be eager to consume a spin-off of this city-born classic: Gravy bread. Unlike the Italian beef sandwich, which is served with optional beef gravy, gravy bread is simply a lone hoagie roll soaked in au jus. While there are ways to add a bit of flair to this empty roll by way of peppers or a slice of cheese, traditionally, the only textured food that typically appears on a classic gravy bread sandwich is a few residual shreds of beef found in the flavorful au jus soak. To fully understand why anyone would want to consume a soggy bread roll covered in meat juice, we must fully discover Chicagoans deep-seated love for the iconic Italian beef sandwich.

Read more: The Unexpected Meat You Need To Avoid Grilling At All Costs

How Is Gravy Bread Linked To The Italian Beef Classic?

Italian beef sandwich with giardiniera
Italian beef sandwich with giardiniera - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Even though the Windy City has many tasty food options, some argue that Italian beef is Illinois' best food, spearheading natives' desire for "dipped" delicacies. Italian beef sandwiches may be ordered dry, wet, or dipped, signifying the amount of au jus you want on your resulting meat roll. "Dry" includes beef that has been pulled from the au jus and shaken to remove excess gravy while "wet" is gravy-covered beef which leaves your sandwich's exterior soft and moist. Last but not least, "dipped" involves an assembled sandwich dipped in au jus for an entirely new (and messy) eating experience. The resulting meat-filled sandwich comes apart as you consume it bite for bite, since excess gravy turns the outer bread to mush.

You can now understand how a rare offshoot like gravy bread was born. Most foodies who order the Italian beef sandwich are prepared to consume considerable amounts of meat in one sitting. If you're curious about the dipped phenomenon surrounding this Italian-American delight, try ordering gravy bread the next time you find yourself in Chicago. Not only will you get a taste of the ever-popular beef gravy, but you'll gain the rare experience of consuming wet disintegrating bread which many Chicago natives consider a necessary characteristic of a well-flavored sandwich.

Can Gravy Bread Be Found On Most Italian Beef Shop Menus?

Al's Beef storefront in Chicago
Al's Beef storefront in Chicago - George Rose/Getty Images

If you're eager to try this unique au jus dipped delicacy, you should know that gravy bread isn't regularly featured on every Italian beef shop menu. While you can find this rare delight on the food menus of Buona Beef and Portillos (which now have locations nationwide), if you find yourself in a local Italian beef shop, ask for a bread roll dipped in gravy. One of the benefits of this obscure treat is that gravy bread is significantly more affordable than a classic meat-filled sandwich and can be customized to include any variety of extras for added texture and flavor. Cheese lovers can add a bit of mozzarella or a layer of sweet or hot peppers for that traditional Italian beef taste.

For those eager to try more au jus-inspired foods, the Italian beef combo is a sandwich that requires a certain level of commitment. Unlike gravy bread, which serves as a simple gravy-covered bread snack, the Italian beef combo comes loaded with thinly sliced beef and includes a full-sized Italian sausage. Whether you're a bonafide meat lover or want to mildly partake in Chicago's obsession with beef gravy, you have more than one option to consider. While Italian beef deserves a spot on the 101 best food and drinks in Chicago, it's up to you to decide if gravy bread deserves a relegated spot on this specially curated list of food favorites.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.