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Brown: Putting beloved pepper and egg up for City Council debate

Ald. Anthony Napolitano and I have something in common — a deep and abiding love of the pepper and egg sandwich.

A pepper and egg sandwich from Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park. Columnist Mark Brown takes his slathered in hot giardiniera. Photo by Mark Brown

Ald. Anthony Napolitano and I have something in common — a deep and abiding love of the pepper and egg sandwich.

The 41st Ward alderman comes by this affection the natural way as the product of an Italian Catholic family observing meatless Fridays during Lent.

“It was a staple in our family,” Napolitano told me Friday. “I just thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”

I, on the other hand, am just a fat heathen who acquired an appreciation for this simple ethnic specialty after being introduced to it as an adult.

But I assure you what I lack in cultural roots I make up for in appetite.

OPINION

Follow @MarkBrownCSTIt’s been five years since I kicked off the Lenten season with my annual homage to pepper and egg sandwiches, five long years during which I’ve stuck to the mission of writing relentlessly about serious political matters.

This year, though, I’m striking a compromise by reviving the pepper and egg tribute via a survey of the City Council’s four Italian-American aldermen.

Napolitano was by far the most enthusiastic about pepper and egg (a/k/a pepper’n egg, a/k/a peppers and eggs), waxing poetic about a dish his father and grandfather made for him as a child.

“Once you saw the black ashes on everybody’s foreheads [on Ash Wednesday], you knew there was going to be a pepper and egg coming out,” Napolitano said wistfully.

“It’s a prideful food, as simple as it seems,” he added, and from the response to my past columns, I know this to be true.

Napolitano, a former firefighter who spent six years as the cook for his firehouse, knows his way around a kitchen.

Anthony Napolitano, in 2015, days before he was sworn in as the new 41st Ward alderman. File Photo by Mark Brown/Sun-Times
Anthony Napolitano, in 2015, days before he was sworn in as the new 41st Ward alderman. File Photo by Mark Brown/Sun-Times

“There’s an art form to them,” said Napolitano, who insists the dish should only be cooked in a cast iron pan to retain the natural seasoning.

There are lots of ways to make it, but the basic recipe is to sauté and season sliced green peppers, fold in the eggs and, quite important, serve on good crusty Italian bread.

Napolitano said he would always add cheese for the firemen to fill them up. His grandfather would fry up a potato along with the peppers.

Napolitano prefers to make his own, but if he’s going out, he likes the pepper and egg at Tony’s, 6708 N. Northwest Hwy.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) also expressed her love for pepper and egg, but in a more reserved manner.

“There’s not a lot about Lent to look forward to, but pepper and egg is one of them,” said Laurino. She and her husband prefer to make their own at home after securing a proper roll from Sicilian Bakery, 5939 W. Lawrence.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he likes pepper and egg, but it’s not one of his favorites.

“I guess a pepper and egg sandwich to me was a little more utilitarian,” said Arena, who couldn’t remember the last time he had one.

And Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) admitted he doesn’t eat pepper and egg.

“I’m a weird Italian,” Sposato said. “I’m not a pepper guy.”

His colleagues confirmed Sposato is “particular about his food.”

The crew at Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park serves up pepper and egg sandwiches every Friday, but gets more takers during Lent. Photo by Mark Brown.
The crew at Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park serves up pepper and egg sandwiches every Friday, but gets more takers during Lent. Photo by Mark Brown.

But even Sposato felt it necessary to assert that “my whole family loves them” and to confirm my assertion that Italians make the best pepper and egg.

He said his staff enjoys pepper and egg from Luke’s on Harlem, 3130 N. Harlem, and Bob-O’s, 8258 Irving Park Road.

My loyalty still lies with the pepper and egg at Johnnie’s Beef, 7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park, where the line was out the door at 11:15 a.m. Friday.

There’s nothing political about a pepper and egg sandwich.

They taste as good to Republicans as to Democrats and even to the occasional oddball Libertarian.

If I’m going to give readers indigestion this weekend, at least let it be the old-fashioned way.

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