Even before he was dubbed the Food Network’s “Sandwich King,” Elmwood Parker Jeff Mauro loved to eat at Jimmy’s Place, 7411 W. Madison St.

“He’s said – in print – that we have the best Chicken Vesuvio in Chicago,” boasts owner Jim Jodoin. Jodoin, of Riverside, has served the Mauro family as customers since he opened in 1998.

Mauro’s TV shtick? “I can make any meal into a sandwich and any sandwich into a meal.”

Hollywood producers brought Mauro to Madison Street Friday to film him enjoying food in a family setting. Three generations of Mauro’s Italian-American family were filmed at Jimmy’s Place and Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 Madison St. That afternoon, family members revealed his secret recipe for arguably the most important American sandwich of the year — the Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwich. (See below.)

Jimmy’s Place was also the site of a Forest Park Food Pantry benefit Dec. 7, hosted by Commissioner Chris Harris and the Kiwanis Club. Mauro also showed up for that event.

“Jeff walked around talking to everyone. We got a carload of food for the Food Pantry. Everyone brought a bag,” says Harris.

Family was the focus of Friday’s television shooting, and Mauro gathered his siblings, grandmother, nephews and nieces and mother for the get-together.

“Always funny, always crazy, always fun,” is how Mauro’s mother, Pam Mauro, of River Forest, describes Jeff. Her chef son was always “very fussy about food,” Pam Mauro says.

“‘Nothing in the microwave, Mom!’ he used to say Ð and I have four kids, so I was always trying to save time.” Mauro graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School and Bradley University in Peoria.

Mauro took to acting as a young kid, says his mom and then performed in the interactive theater production of “Tony and Tina’s Wedding.” Working in a cousin’s deli and finally attending culinary school helped Mauro combine the two passions of acting and cooking. The result was a recipe that won him a successful audition on Food Network’s Next Star in a competition last August.

Pam says appreciation for good food runs in the family. She’s nicknamed “The Beef Lady” at Jimmy’s Place, says Jodoin, because she was one of the restaurant’s first catering customers.

After a little misunderstanding about whether Italian Beef peppers went into the gravy or were served on the side, Pam and her husband Gus became loyal customers. “We almost got off to a bad start, when I saw the peppers were there, inside the gravy,” she laughs.ÊLike her son, she loves the Chicken Vesuvio at Jimmy’s Place. “White meat only,” she stresses.

Jodoin didn’t change the restaurant’s dcor or make any special arrangements for the TV shooting. “This is the horse I rode in on,” he said. He also would not comment on what makes his Chicken Vesuvio the champion. “I can’t tell you that!”

But Sandwich King Mauro’s family shared a secret recipe – and an iPhone photo – of his post-Thanksgiving sandwich masterpiece: Grandma’s sausage bread with leftover turkey.

The day after Thanksgiving, Mauro sliced longwise a loaf of his Grandma’s sausage bread – baked with chunks of Italian sausage and cheese in the dough. He filled it, sub-like, with leftover turkey, manchego cheese, lettuce, tomato and – the final touch – bacon. “It’s a lot of meat,” said his mother, “but delicious.”

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...