May 1, 2013

A Chicago fast food sampler – Part One: Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Last month, in an unexplainable fit of adventure, the Young Curmudgeon and I decided to take a daylong road trip to Chicago during his spring break.  With no agenda other than a stop at the Chicago History Museum, we decided it would be fun to eat our way through a sampling of the some of the quick eats Chicago is so famous for. 

Our first stop, mainly because we saw a sing for its Shorewood location on Interstate 55, was Al’s #1 Italian Beef.  Al’s has collected many accolades since it began in 1938 as the best Italian beef sandwich in Chicago and one of the 10 best sandwiches in America, and they’re not afraid to tell you about it. 

"Eat this sandwich, or you're terminated."

Call me partial, but I think Central Grocery’s muffuletta set the standard pretty darn high.  But, I guess it depends on what your favorite sandwich filler is.   

The Als’ location in Shorewood shares a building with Nancy’s Pizza, which upon a little research on Al’s #1 Italian Beef's website I learned purchased the rights to franchise Al's in 1999.  So, with Nancy’s and Al’s together, you kind of have a Chicago version of what Yum! Foods does when it puts a Taco Bell and a KFC in the same building.    

This, unfortunately (and a little unfairly for first impressions), left me feeling like this Al’s anyway was just your basic chain fast food joint.  It seemed almost too clean and sanitized.  Al’s menu featured many of your Chicago fast food staples – hot dogs, char-grilled burgers, polishes – but the reason we came here, of course, was for the Italian beef. Knowing we had a lot more food to eat through before the trip was over, I ordered a “Little Al” with provolone cheese, as did the Young Curmudgeon, and we shared an order of fries. 

After tasting what a “true” Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich is supposed to be, I have to admit this was one of the best I can ever recall having.  I won’t go as far to say it’s the best I ever had, but it was a memorable choice.  Here’s why …  

First, the Italian roll they serve it on is perfect, firm yet chewy and able to absorb a lot of the juices that are still dripping out after every bite you eat.  That’s because they give the whole sandwich a quick au jus dip before serving it to you.  Look closely at the crappy picture I took, and you’ll see spots on the bread where it’s still wet.  The beef is thinly sliced to the point of being shredded, but it’s generously piled in between the buns, along with green peppers that have been simmering with it. You know a sandwich with a couple of simple ingredients is good when you realize you don’t need to add anything else to it. 

I also want to give credit to Al’s for their French fries, which were easily the best we had in the Chicago area that day.  Al’s boasts fresh-cut fries, and they apparently know how to do them right.  The Young Curmudgeon loves his fries, and he was very happy with these.  Can’t you tell?

Someday, he may actually smile.
I still like my muffuletta better, but I agree Al’s is a worthy contender for top sandwich honors, at least in the Italian beef category.  Some Chicagoans who disagree with me insist on Mr. Beef instead, so it looks like I’ll have to make another trip to try it out and decide for myself.  In the meantime, look for more blog entries in this series as the Young Curmudgeon and I eat our way through the Windy City. 

I’m also headed to Memphis this weekend for the fourth consecutive year to check out the Beale Street Music Festival.  Looks like the weather will be typical for the festival – cold, rainy and gloomy – typical for “Memphis in Mud.”  Oh well, there are plenty of bars nearby and other places worth blogging about.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I don't know if I've had Al's, but I do like Mr. Beef. The bad thing is I am always so full after eating there.

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...