the great giardiniera taste test of ’13

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

all the peppers

inspired by a serious eats blog post, my immediate & extended family embarked on our own epic, hot-pepper contest over the holidays this year.  belgians & italians alike eagerly participated in the effort to, once & for all, finally determine who makes the best giardiniera in town.

those of you not from the chicago area—especially if you’re on the west coast—may not be familiar with real giardiniera.  perhaps you’ve seen some bullsh*t like this on your grocer’s shelf.  suffice it to say, if there’s a whole lotta cauliflower in your jar, you’re doing it wrong.  it oughta be plenty green with peppers, but with a nice variety of other pickled vegetables, too.  it should have some crunch.  and for the love of the pope, it d*mn well better be spicy.

our showdown wasn’t quite as ambitious as serious eats’, but we still took eight different brands for a little test drive.  and here’s the notes i jotted down from the crew at casa sommer (in the order we ate ’em)…

bunyon’s:  featured a good celery, but thought it’d be hotter.  still a nice spice, though.  definitely would put it on a dog.  the fact that it does not not have olives = big plus.

la bella:  (too) mild!  no olives = sad face.  the flavor mix is right, though.

potbelly’s:  love it.  heat is just right.  just…everything, man.  even the color & presentation!

ditka’s:  not as crisp as we’d like, but a good bit of heat.  missing olives (which maybe we’re a little too focused on?).  good crunch.  “bigger cauliflower” (though, after the fact, i don’t really know what that means).

giuliano’s:  [no notes recorded. i guess we were all pretty underwhelmed?]

vienna:  good heat (it even lingers!), but there’s not enough variety happening up in here.

bari:  sweet, sweet bari.  by which i mean not sweet at all (because sweet peppers are something else entirely—duh).  but the flavor!  is outstanding!  a truly excellent mix.  “bigg” pieces (the extra “g” for extra bigness, i guess?), but it needed more crispness.

alpino:  a decent mix, but not really unique.  good crunch & heat.  some of us were big fans, but not all of us.  more vinegar that oil.

ultimately, at casa sommer it was a near unanimous choice for potbelly’s as #1.  i’ve always been a HUGE fan of their mix, but even so, i was kinda surprised that a huge sandwich shop chain (even one based in chi) took the top slot over some local italian grocers.  from the family that was doing this same test down in florida, their first choice was also nearly unanimous: for potbelly’s.  they also really liked bari and alpino, and took note of the differences in bite, crunch, oil amount, size of pieces, and veg variety.  and ditka’s did get a  #1 vote, too.

so, it seems like now the only logical thing to do is walk into a potbelly’s & see if they’ll sell me one of their ginormous (8 lb.) jars.  which i’ve always assumed they’ve never do.  but which my cousin’s family totally acquired.  i’m jealous.  with an extra “g” even.


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