Italian beef, Chicago dogs, and other foods from the Windy City have blown into Brooklyn. Bobbi’s Italian Beef, a new sandwich shop at 228 Smith Street, between Douglass and Butler streets, opened without much fanfare last weekend, but people walking down Cobble Hill’s main drag seemed to follow the smell of beef jus and end up at the counter. Most asked some version of the same question: “What should I get?”
“The name is Bobbi’s Italian Beef,” says owner Jason Lux, who’s from Champaign, Illinois. “If you don’t know what to order, I can’t help you.” Lux, a partner and former chef at Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook, started Bobbi’s as a stall attached to Fulton Landing Seafood Co. in Dekalb Market last fall. Let the record show: “We opened before The Bear,” he says, alluding to the hit Hulu television show about an Italian beef shop in Chicago that aired this summer.
The stall closed in August, and Lux locked down the space in Cobble Hill that he’s turned into a 30-seat dining room with colorful booths and a counter with bar stools. The menu has grown, too, and now lists a baker’s dozen sandwiches available as half- for around $10 or whole sandwiches for around $20 each. Choices include muffulettas, Italian combos, chicken tender parm, and a roast beef ranch melt.
Listen to Lux, and order the Italian beef. The sandwich takes the chef some four days to make: He starts by marinating beef top round for 24 hours, then braises the meat in beef stock until it’s medium rare, lets it rest for another day, then slices it thin, and deposits it back in its juices before serving. Once stuffed with meat, the sandwich is dipped back into a vat of jus before serving, then topped with pickled carrots and celery.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Lux says, but really, what choice does he have? The Italian beef sandwich, like the Chicago dog, follows a strict formula. Stray from the path, and suffer the wrath of Midwest transplants.
Lux describes himself as a “purist,” even if he serves a version of Italian beef with cheese. He gets his bread from Mazzola Bakery a few blocks over, while his poppyseed buns, “nuclear green” relish, and snappy red wieners come from Vienna Beef, a requisite for a true Chicago dog, he says. Those ingredients aren’t easy to get ahold of in Brooklyn, and Lux was only able to find someone to drive them into Brooklyn because he’s friends with the Vienna Beef rep in the state of Illinois.
The result of his efforts is a hot dog that’s been “dragged through the garden” — topped with mustard, relish, onions, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt, in that order — and stuffed into a poppyseed bun. Order one for $8, or try the beef franks in a “bagel dog,” a torpedo-shaped poppyseed bagel with a hot dog inside.
Elsewhere on the menu, find personal pizzas that are baked in vintage Pizza Hut pans that the chef found online, tater tots dusted in celery salt, and RC Cola, an old-school soda brand that’s popular in the Midwest and South. More than one customer was surprised to learn it still existed. “I wanted to bring a little Chicago to New York,” Lux says.
Bobbi’s Italian Beef is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, but Lux seems to be marinating beef for his sandwiches in the kitchen most hours of the day. “Knock on the window, and I’ll probably make you something,” he says.