How Jimmy's Conquered Dallas

How did a humble neighborhood bodega become the city's sausage king? With a recipe restaurants couldn't resist.

How Jimmy's Conquered Dallas
Sara Kerens
Jeff White lived around the corner from Jimmy's as a kid, and now runs the store's day-to-day operations.

If you order a hoagie in Philly, there's a good chance it will come on a Sarcone's roll. Sure, other bakeries supply bread for some shops around town, but Sarcone's has built a legacy out of its sesame-seed-studded bread and that chewy texture that's a workout for your jaw.

Order a hot dog in Chicago and soon you'll be staring down the end of a Vienna Beef frankfurter. Do other companies supply the vendors that provide the city with its daily allowance of tubed meat? Of course. But the blue and red logo of Vienna Beef is synonymous with Chicago dogs.

This is how it goes: Every city's food culture builds itself around certain brands, purveyors that help define a town's culinary identity. The same goes for Dallas.

Around here, if you're eating a sandwich worth the paper it's wrapped in, there's a strong likelihood the bread was baked at Empire Bakery Company, whose humble Lovers Lane storefront belies the company's yeasty stronghold on the city's bread market. Mozzarella Company's Paula Lambert, meanwhile, is your go-to girl if you want hand-pulled mozzarella, creamy burata or an award-winning hoja santa-wrapped goat cheese.

And then there's Jimmy's Food Store, the East Dallas grocer known as much for its house-made sausage as for its sandwiches, pastas and wines. My first encounter with Jimmy's was on a pizza at Bolsa. The simple flatbread boasted a spicy crumble of sausage tricked out with yellow pickles, peppers and mozzarella. A trip to the store itself for an Italian Stallion further imprinted the name, even if the flaccid bread it came on made me long for a true hoagie.

I saw it next on Bryan Street Tavern's menu. Maybe I was looking for it now. Like a couple shopping for homes can spot an open-house sign from 500 yards out, I started seeing Jimmy's on menus all over Dallas — on a flatbread at SWIG and again on a pizza at Cane Rosso. I was slowly becoming obsessed with the store, all the while realizing that I didn't really need to go back. Jimmy's was everywhere.


When I walked into Jimmy's a few weeks ago, to learn how this humble grocery made the sausage that captured the hearts and menus of Dallas, I was expecting to meet Paul DiCarlo, the son of James DiCarlo, who opened Jimmy's with his father (also a James) in 1966. But it was Mike, another member of that third generation, who shook my hand.

Paul was at the hospital with his dad. James, now 91, was at Baylor with some wires hooked up to his heart. They were trying to shock him back into rhythm.

"He should be all right," Mike told me before offering me an espresso. I took one; it was rich and black with a heavy crema cap that coated my lips as I sipped from the paper cup. I tried to pay for the coffee, but Mike refused.

Jimmy's looks like it's been there forever, and in a way it has: The building went up in 1927, but Jimmy's didn't open until the 1960s and it's only been the Italian grocery people know now since 1997. Before that it was more of an ethnic bodega, catering to Latino and Asian immigrants who landed in the neighborhood in the 1970s and '80s. And before that it was just a run-of-the-mill corner grocery, selling milk, dry goods and produce.

"People think we've been doing this forever," Mike told me as we stood next to a reach-in freezer, which was stocked with frozen pasta he has shipped in from a factory in Brooklyn. "We used to sell neck bones, menudo, pressed ham and bologna," he said. It sold them to working-class immigrants shopping on that week's pay. "We cashed a lot of checks," he said.

For its first 20 years, Jimmy's ran a lot like any other small Dallas grocery, but the DiCarlos always had their finger on the pulse of the neighborhood. When conflicts in Southeast Asia brought immigrants from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, they started buying 25-pound bags of rice by the pallet. When the Latino community swelled, they added skirt steak for fajitas. In the front of the store, every day of the year, they'd sell whatever the community wanted or needed.

But it was in the back, during the holidays, that the DiCarlos honored a family tradition they had no idea would become the backbone of their family business decades later. They made sausage.

It was an old family recipe that included beef and orange zest in the grind. They took the sausage home to supplement turkeys, lasagna and other holiday mainstays that graced their massive family spreads.

It's a tradition Jeff White remembers well, watching the family stuff hog casings with their holiday bounty. White lived around the corner on Live Oak Street, and he would wander over with kids from the neighborhood to sweep floors, stack boxes and do other simple tasks in exchange for sodas and cookies — a compensation package that probably wouldn't cut it these days. When White turned 17, the DiCarlos put him on the payroll. Now 42, he's been working there ever since.

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18 comments
Twinwillow
Twinwillow

Thank goodness for Jimmy's. I was one of those who was devastated when Al's closed. It was only after that I was told about Jimmy's. I've been a happy and frequent customer since.

Big George
Big George

The Italian Beef sandwiches are pretty good but would be authentically GREAT if served on REAL Gonnella Buns. I agree that the sauage IS DA BEST in town and I have been buying it for years, uncased for my thin crust, home made, Pizzas!

McKinney Mommas
McKinney Mommas

Nice to see Jimmy's featured here. After I moved here from living in Connecticut for 6 years, Jimmy's was a GREAT place to remind me of all the little "mom and pop" Italian shops we used to eat at in New Haven, CT. If you haven't already - check it out!

Diggity_Dave
Diggity_Dave

Thanks a ton from someone who recently moved to Dallas and is always looking for local hotspots!

G_David
G_David

I didn't know until I read this story, but Jimmy's had just gone all-Italian all the time when I started going there. I assumed it had looked like that for decades. If I can listen to my stomach growl for the next couple of hours, I'm stopping in for the Italian stallion on my way home today.

Oak Cliff Clavin
Oak Cliff Clavin

Nice piece Scott, you've managed to find much of the best Dallas has to offer in a short time. However, I would've thought that all phalliic-shaped cased-meat stories were Alice's domain, contractually speaking.

Danny
Danny

A three page article and no address for Jimmy's.

G_David
G_David

In the time it took to make that comment, you could have Googled it 3, maybe 4 times. Or you could have moved your cursor over that Google map and seen the address AND a picture of the place.

guero
guero

I thought it was a great story. I used to live around there and have been a customer of Jimmy's for over twenty years. Nice Job!

Guest
Guest

Scott, please tell us more about up north. Pretty pretty please. We just loooooove it. It's not pretentious at all and you DEFINITELY do not come off as an ass.

John Neely Bryan
John Neely Bryan

Pal, it is hard to find great BBQ & Tex-mex in the North, and it is equally hard to find great sandwiches in Texas. Are you content with Subway or Quiznos? Scott isn't the one coming off as an ass here, I thought it was a fine article.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Nice article. So much to say about Jimmy's. Best Italian wine selection in town. Good home made marinara. Great dried and fresh pasta. Unbelievable sandwiches. Then there is the neighborhood. Spicer and the Asian community garden are around the corner. The renamed Guero's is just down the street. Further east on fitzhugh the michoacan market had an interesting meat selection, nopes, a decent taco bar, and occasionally, squash blossoms. Still further east is Thai Noodle. You could spend all Saturday on Fitzhugh.

John Hix
John Hix

Title of this article is an immense exaggeration and hopefully not indicative of the culinary taste of Dallas. Shame on you the author.

 
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