Review: Mike’s Italian Beef delivers more than its namesake dish | Restaurant reviews

Mike’s Italian Beef emphatically answers a question I didn’t realize needed asking. Can the Italian beef sandwich be even more overwhelming? If you have yet to visit this 3-month-old restaurant in the Affton area, you might reasonably think the answer is no — at least not without some kind of TikTok stunt like, say, rolling an Italian beef sandwich inside a burrito.

To be fair, even if you have eaten at Mike’s, you might still think the answer is no. The restaurant’s Classic Italian Beef Sandwich spills juicy top round steak and snapping, spicy giardiniera (or sweet peppers, if you like) from a hoagie roll that is either just crusty enough to withstand the beef’s jus or, if the sandwich has already been dipped in that jus, just softened enough to be a sodden but structurally sound mess.

Mike's Italian Beef

Mike’s Italian Beef in Affton

Mike's Italian Beef

Mike Roos, owner of Mike’s Italian Beef in Affton

At Mike’s, though, you can opt instead for the Monster Italian Beef Sandwich, which not only packs more steak into the roll, but also supercharges it with sport peppers and jalapeños as well as giardiniera. The heat is pungent, though amply cushioned by all of that beef. I’ll make no claims about the sandwich’s structural soundness, dipped or not. The risk is part of the fun.

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Mike Roos is the eponymous owner of Mike’s, which opened in January in the shopping plaza at the southwest corner of MacKenzie and Heege roads. A native of the Chicago area, Roos moved to St. Louis in 2008 and has been working in area restaurants since attending culinary school in 2014.

Last year, he was working on the food truck of Sedera Sweets & Ice Cream, the Middle Eastern restaurant and bakery located in the same shopping plaza. One day, Sedera owner George Simon told him they should open a restaurant together. The style of restaurant was up to Roos, who saw an opening in St. Louis for Chicago-style Italian beef.

An illustration of the two cities’ skylines looms over the counter of Mike’s open galley kitchen. The restaurant is a counter-service operation, with seating inside the no-frills dining room and, weather permitting, along the sidewalk outside. The kitchen packages both dine-in and takeout orders to go, which helps contain the drippy sprawl of the Italian beef sandwich a little.

Mike's Italian Beef

A Philly Cheese Steak with onion rings at Mike’s Italian Beef in Affton

Mike's Italian Beef

A Coney Dog at Mike’s Italian Beef in Affton

Wherever you plan to eat, open your package of Mike’s garlic-Parmesan fries as soon as possible. Fresh from the fryer, the golden-brown spuds yield the perfect crisp-tender bite. The flavor is garlicky, though not overpoweringly so. Time and distance do the fries no favors, though. The texture loses its verve. If you are driving back home or to the office, order some extra fries for the ride. As an added bonus, your car will smell amazing.

At the restaurant, the fries can still hold their form under a velvet blanket of the house cheddar-cheese sauce. This sauce is also the cheese in the mac and cheese, another standout side, and the cheddar in the roast beef and cheddar sandwich. Here the sauce is spread too thin (literally) to register against all that meat. Mike’s cheesesteak also leans into its steak: a generous portion with some peppers and onions and a gilding of melted provolone.

Among the sandwiches, the most intriguing alternative to the Italian beef is the corned beef. Brined in-house for seven to 10 days, the zippy meat shines in the traditional Reuben arrangement of Swiss, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on marble rye. As you might have gathered, Mike’s is beef-forward, but the restaurant does impress with its catfish po’boy, the fish still tender inside its crunchy cornmeal jacket.

Mike’s fries plump Nathan’s hot dogs and smashes twin quarter-pound patties for its burgers. Toppings for the former include both the expected Chicago-style (relish, sport pepper, pickle, et al.) and the seldom-seen locally Seattle-style, an appealingly weird spicy-sharp-sweet combination of cream cheese, jalapeño, onion and mustard.

Mike's Italian Beef

The Munstero Burger at Mike’s Italian Beef

Among the burgers is a rival to the Monster Italian Beef in effect, if not size. The Munstero Burger takes its name in part from Muenster cheese, which acts less as an accent than a doubling-down on the richness of the twin patties. What gives this monster its fangs is its habanero jam. Ranch dressing cools the jam for a few bites, but the habanero heat builds and builds into a prickly, full-body experience. At a time when it’s easier to count the burger restaurants that don’t smash their patties, the Munstero Burger answers a vital question positively and with gusto: Can this kind of burger still seem new and memorable?

Where Mike’s Italian Beef, 8001 MacKenzie Avenue, south St. Louis County • More info 314-282-0007; mikesitalianbeefstl.comMenu Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers • Hours Lunch and dinner daily

Mike's Italian Beef

Mike’s Italian Beef in Affton

Ian Froeb's STL 100: Our critic's 2022 guide to the best restaurants in St. Louis