Airport Dining, Midway Airport, and the Hot Italian Beef Sandwich

Midway Airport
(Courtesy of Leoboudv)

Well, let’s face it, airport food options always kind of suck. Just by being in an airport, the food is more expensive, the clientele more hurried, and most everyone isn’t even in the best of moods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above writing up food joints in airports, since there are a few gems out there, but overall, one doesn’t ever go to an airport looking for great food. At best, they find good food despitebeing in an airport. But all that aside, there are a handful of airports that, while not really caring for the airport in and of itself, at least manage to give me some easy access to some regional food cravings. That’s definitely the case with Chicago Midway Airport. While it is night and day better than it was pre-2000 (when the new concourses and arrival/departure main terminal across Cicero opened), it’s still a sucky airport, dominated by discount carriers, and seemingly having been designed with each gate having about 1/3 as much seating as a typical Southwest flight. But, with a substantial fraction of my cross-country flights connecting at Midway, it’s also a handy place for me to indulge in some of my Chicago-area food indulgences. I’ve prattled on before about the Chicago-style hot dog, and Midway isn’t a bad place to get one of those… but this time, I’m talking about that other Chicago-area sandwich, the Hot Italian Beef.

I love a good Hot Italian Beef. As I discussed on my review of the venerable Al’s #1 Italian Beef, the Hot Italian Beef is pretty much a unique Chicago invention: roasted beef, shaved thin and piled high on a crusty Italian loaf, topped with some pickled giardenera mix (preferably loaded with “the hots”, hot pickled peppers), and with the bread and the beef literally sopping in the juices from the beef roast, it’s a beautiful sandwich. Sure, it’s also pretty much the definition of a “hot mess”, but even though I usually need at least four napkins to clean up after eating one, it’s the perfect combination of beef, juiciness, crusty bread, and hot pickled peppers. And, no matter where you are in Midway airport, there’s some sort of place serving up a Hot Italian Beef within short walking distance.

If just having cleared security, you can hit up Gold Coast. Nominally a hot dog joint (and a decent one at that) with both steamed and charred hot dogs, they’ve also got all the other required Chicago-specific sandwiches: the Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions, the Hot Italian Beef, and even the Chi-town combo, which is basically both of those sandwiches crammed onto the same bun. It’s not quite up to the standards of the in-town places like Al’s or Portillo’s, and I find them a bit stingy on the giardinera, but, hey, compared to what passes as an Italian Beef sandwich outside of the Chicago area, it’s pure ambrosia. Oh, and for you Chicago hot dog lovers, I’ve even got a pro tip: they’ll happily sell you jars of authentic, Vienna-brand sport peppers and giardinera for your home cooking needs.

If you find yourself on the B concourse, there’s an even better option; the Midway airport version of Wrigleyville’s HVAC Pub (yes, the name stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling, the original bar’s name was “Heating and Cooling) serves up a surprisingly good version of a Hot Italian Beef: a nice crusty roll, a bit more generous on the piled-up beef, and a whole heck of a lot more giardinera and dripping juice, it’s exactly what I want (only down side is that it comes bundled with chips, which ends up being a bit more food than I wanted).

And the A concourse isn’t left out, either. There’s an airport version of The Billy Goat Tavern that, in addition to their infamous “cheezborger” will happily make up an acceptable rendition of an Italian Beef (alas, I’ve not taken a picture of one of those). So, even in a relatively short connection through Midway, you can score a halfway decent Italian Beef sandwich and take care of at least one of your food cravings (or, if you’ve not experienced a Hot Italian Beef sandwich for yourself, get inducted into the fan club by trying one out).

So, for those reading along, what are your airport favorites?

2 Responses

  1. TJ 30 Jan 2020 at 15:33 #

    Whenever I flew out of MDW the McDonald s was always loaded with customers & our great city leaders threw them out so they could get money for their reelection . No every Chicago resident wants to spend$ 25 on. 1 sandwich. !

    • kaszeta 09 Feb 2020 at 18:56 #

      Yeah, I’ve not been impressed with the recent changes at MDW. Removing the moving walkways to add marginal, expensive restaurants with poor service seems to be the current trend.

Leave a Reply