Phil Vettel recommends: Pepper and egg sandwiches

Pepper and egg sandwiches for Lenten observers

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Pepper& egg sandwich

Server Michael Bonsonto holds the pepper and egg sandwich at Pompeii. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / February 19, 2014)

As a kid growing up Catholic, my meatless-Friday options included canned tuna, grilled cheese, tomato soup and whatever nasty fish my mom would slap in a fry pan.

Mind you, I grew up Old School Catholic. Back then, we still had limbo, purgatory was basically hell with term limits and nuns in school told us the gruesome details of the martyrs. And meatless Friday meant every Friday, not the namby-pamby handful of Fridays imposed on people during Lent these days. And because I didn't grow up in Chicago, I was ignorant of one of the greatest Lenten creations of all time: The pepper and egg sandwich.

Its genius is its simplicity — scrambled eggs and griddled bell peppers on a bun. Its brilliance comes from execution; when the eggs are soft and creamy, the peppers sweet from caramelization, the bun sturdy but yielding (or satisfyingly crusty), the pepper and egg sandwich is a thing of beauty, nourishing the body and even the soul, to the extent that it's helping to keep you out of purgatory.

Lent begins March 5; here are some good pepper and egg options:

Buona Beef. A solid source for pepper and egg sandwiches, provided it's a Friday; that's the only day the sandwich ($4.95, $7.95 with side and drink) is served. Various locations; buona.com

Burger Boss. This burger specialist, with locations in Lakeview and Elmwood Park, will offer its Pepper & Egg Boss, served on a brioche bun, during March (for the three Lenten Fridays in April this year, you're on your own). The sandwich is $3.99 (add cheese, 90 cents) in Elmwood Park but $4.09 in Lakeview. 3208 N. Southport Ave., 773-248-2677; 7512 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park, 708-452-7288.

Ferro's. This Bridgeport spot, at 31st Street and Wentworth Avenue, is better known for its Italian beef sandwiches and hot dogs, but its potato, pepper and egg sandwich ($4.99; add cheese, 50 cents) is a beauty, an oversized omelet-on-a-bun with chunks of home-fry potatoes for good measure. The French roll, though substantial, still isn't big enough to hold all the egg and extras, which is why I recommend finding a table before taking this on. There's also a regular pepper and egg sandwich ($4.49), and, for the nondevout, a sausage, pepper and egg combo ($5.49). Cash only. 200 W. 31st St., 312-842-0702

Fiore's Delicatessen. This corner grocery is a great place for carry-out sandwiches, all made to order (and you can call in orders too). The pepper and egg sandwiches come in three lengths: 5 ($4.25), 7 ($5.25) and 9 inches ($5.75), all featuring green and orange bell peppers and scrambled eggs on a soft yet chewy Italian roll. For a bit more, you can add cheese (50 cents) and mild or spicy giardiniera (25 cents); you really want that giardiniera; the crunch, acidity and added spice really make the sandwich. 2258 W. Erie St., 312-942-9419

Hound Dogs Burgers and Teriyaki. I'm confident that this is the only place in town where you can order burgers, teriyaki chicken and bi bim bap, in addition to the pepper and egg sandwich ($3.20) served on a crunchy French roll. A healthy dash of salt distinguishes this sandwich, served hot off the griddle. 2257 W. Grand Ave., 312-666-5797

Johnnie's Beef. Some aficionados believe this to be the home of Chicago's finest Italian beef sandwich. It's also home to a superior pepper and egg sandwich ($3.35), available Fridays only, made with the restaurant's own sweet peppers on a French roll. Add giardiniera for 32 cents; ask for cheese, and they'll look at you funny. Nonobservant? The Pepper and Egg Combo ($3.75) contains sausage. 7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park, 708-452-6000

Labriola Bakery Cafe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the pepper and egg sandwich ($8.61, side included), served on a baguette, is available any time. 3201 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook, 630-574-2008

Micelli's Deli. Getting a pepper and egg sandwich on a French roll ($4.25) at this Heart of Chicago delicatessen just feels right. 2448 S. Oakley St., 773-847-6873

Osteria Ottimo. Ottimo's knife-and-fork creation, introduced a few days ago, is a sandwich in name only. The open-faced sandwich tops a ciabatta base with a poached egg, roasted red peppers, onion and taleggio cheese ($10) and is served with a small salad or Parmesan fries. 16111 S. La Grange Road, Orland Park, 708-403-3366

Pho Viet. The Vietnamese-style pepper and egg banh mi ($4.50) places a fried egg and a few slices of jalapeno, plus shredded carrots, cilantro and a slightly sweet sauce on a baguette. The sandwich isn't on the menu, so you have to request it, and when I didn't make myself clear enough, I ended up with a pepper, egg and beef sandwich (it's OK, it isn't Lent yet). Still worth a try. 4941 N. Broadway, 773-769-1284.

Pompei. The pepper and egg sandwich here ($4.50), served on a soft French roll, is a monster, a day's worth of scrambled eggs mixed with roasted green peppers. The sandwich is a little bland, but if you eat in the dining room, you'll find salt, pepper, grated Parmesan and chile flakes at the table (this is, after all, more pizzeria than not) and hot sauce nearby. 1531 W. Taylor St., 312-421-5179

Tavernita. Stretching the definition ever so slightly (OK, considerably) is Tavernita's escalivada, a pepper and eggplant crostini with hazelnut romesco sauce and fluffy dabs of goat cheese. An order of two crostini costs $5.50. 151 W. Erie St., 312-274-1111

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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