Thursday, February 24, 2005
Once word got out that Mick Chiero was serving Italian beef sandwiches at Pa’s Chicago Kitchen in Carmel, it soon became a mecca for Monterey County’s Chicago expatriates.
Pa’s, which opened three months ago, is the only place in town that sells Italian beef sandwiches, a Chicago invention made by slow-roasting beef in its own juices. Chiero uses Black Angus top round in his version of Italian beef, and seasons the roast with garlic, parmesan and parsley, among other seasonings. Once it is cooked, the beef is sliced paper thin and kept juicy by soaking in the hot pan juices. The restaurant now sells more than 50 pounds of Italian beef per week.
Chiero, a Chicago native, makes all of Pa’s delicious food himself, with the exception of the sandwich meats. His cooking career began at 12, under difficult circumstances. His mother had died, and his father, Pa, fed him only grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for a year, before calling in an aunt to teach him how to cook. Pa learned to make Italian beef and all the other dishes that figure on Pa’s menu from this talented aunt. Once Pa learned to cook, he taught his son everything he knew. Pa always wanted to own a beef stand, but never did. When Chiero retired from his career as a Chicago restauranteur, he decided to live out his father’s dream and opened Pa’s Chicago Kitchen.
My husband Laurent had to try Pa’s Italian beef sandwich ($6.95) on our first visit to the restaurant. The thin slices of beef came served “wet style” with a topping of sautéed, soft bell peppers. “Wet style” means the sturdy bun is dipped in roasting juices, giving the bread the savory flavors of the meat. The beef is tender and the garlic taste in the beef is mild, which is the Chicago style for this dish. Monterey Peninsula diners, who are used to more bold garlic flavors in Italian food, may have to readjust their tastes to appreciate the Italian beef sandwich. Monterey diners will have to get used to Chicago sizes, too. Laurent could only eat half of his tasty and generous-sized sandwich, which filled him up for the rest of the day.
Likewise, I could only eat half of my huge Italian meatball sandwich ($6.95). The meatballs tasted like garlicky meatloaf with oregano and parsley seasonings. A rich tomato sauce covered the meatballs and melted provolone cheese. Half of the sandwich fed me for the day.
On a subsequent visit to Pa’s, I tried my favorite dish and the most popular item on the menu after the Italian beef: a Chicago dog ($3.95). Chiero flies in pure Vienna beef hot dogs from Chicago. The luscious toppings—slices of fresh cucumber and dill pickle, tomato, relish, and a “sport” pepper (Chicago-speak for a piquant pepper)—make the dogs taste even better.
Customers carried out bags of these juicy and slightly salty Chicago dogs while we ate in. For taste and price, the Chicago dogs represent one of the best deals in town. My fussy teen daughter Florence tried mine and asked to come back so she could order one too.
Florence also liked Chiero’s turkey sandwich ($4.95) made with real turkey breast, not compressed meat. The soft bread and fresh toppings made for a satisfying meal. Sandwiches like this can be taken for granted when everything is right, but the slightest blemish on the toppings can ruin everything.
My pastrami sandwich ($6.95) tasted great with “the works”—especially with those spicy “sport” peppers. Pastrami is the smoked version of corned beef, which is made by preserving meat with “corns” (the British English word for “grains”) of salt. Chiero’s pastrami had black pepper among the seasonings, which gave it a nice kick.
Laurent put a French twist on an American classic dish; he ordered a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.95), with Swiss cheese instead of American cheese. The Swiss melted perfectly and had a nutty flavor. This is another dish that Florence and I added to our list of things to order at Pa’s.
Chiero makes soups daily. One of his most popular is the Italian wedding soup ($4.95/ large bowl) made with chicken broth, beef morsels, dinky pasta, red pepper, chopped escarole, and carrots. Freshly grated parmesan sprinkled on the soup brings out the savory flavor of the ingredients. Pa’s already has many customers who are stopping in to buy this soup as their dinner—it tastes that good.
After only being open a few months, Chiero’s gastronomic tribute to his father and to the Windy City is already becoming a Carmel classic.
PA’S CHICAGO KITCHEN
3785 Via Nona Marie, Carmel | 624-7468
Hours: 11-7 Mon.-Fri.; 11-3 Sat.