Editor’s note: This story was originally published by DNAinfo Chicago in 2015. It was updated by Block Club in 2020. Fiore’s closed in 2021.
LITTLE ITALY — For Chicago’s Italian Catholics, Fridays during Lent mean one thing: pepper and egg sandwiches.
“I really think it’s tied to Chicago,” said Kathy Catrambone, executive director of the University Village Association. “It’s like the Italian beef.”
It’s a decidedly simple, and decidedly Chicagoan, concoction. The classic version features eggs scrambled and mixed with bell peppers served on French bread.
The sandwich was created by immigrants who came to Chicago from Italy in the late 19th century and early 20th century, though exactly who paired eggs and peppers together first is unclear.
The sandwich has long been a centerpiece for Friday meals among Chicago’s Italian Catholics, who, until 1965, were required to not eat meat on Fridays. After 1965, that requirement only covered Fridays during Lent.
Initially made in batches in home kitchens, today the sandwich is served in delis and restaurants owned by Italian American families across the city.
Michael Fiore, who for decades has run Fiore’s Delicattesen on the corner of Erie Street and Oakley Boulevard in West Town, says his deli was the first to have sold the sandwiches in Chicago.
After more than 40 years, they remain a hit, he said on Tuesday.
“I get a lot of demand,” Fiore said. “We sell these sandwiches every day.”
When Fiore first started selling his sandwiches — which he said are special because of the way he spices the peppers and roasts them — the deli only sold them during Lent.
But the sandwich’s enduring popularity has led Fiore to sell them year-round, and while they’re most popular during Lent, he gets an order — or two or three — every day, he said.
Once Lent starts Wednesday, Fiore’s will start getting larger orders, the owner said. Fiore suggested fans call ahead to order the sandwich, especially if they have multi-sandwich orders.
Fiore’s isn’t the only deli to serve the sandwiches year-round.
“We have them for lunch all the time, all year long,” said Nacho Bautista, a Catholic and owner of Gio’s Cafe and Deli in Bridgeport, in 2015. Gio’s serves the sandwich in a classic form and “Sicilian” with diced potatoes inside.
Regardless of who created it, it’s become a comfort food for many Chicago Catholics.
“I’ve been eating them my whole life,” Catrambone said. “It’s the best thing about Lent. You get to eat pepper and egg sandwiches.”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.