How Jimmy's Conquered Dallas

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

About 20 years ago, White took over day-to-day management of the market. He basically lives behind the deli case, slicing provolone and ham, dishing out olives for customers. When I stopped by recently, he was pushing 60 pounds of pork shoulder through a massive commercial meat grinder. Thick and broad-chested, with a neatly trimmed beard, White's in decent shape, but I can't see him working out at the Equinox gym. I see him in the storage room pressing 200-pound crates of pork belly with one hand, sipping an espresso with the other.

"That's when the 'hood was a good 'hood," he said of his old neighborhood. He lives in Richardson now, but talks lovingly of the East Dallas neighborhood where he spent his youth. As a stream of coarsely ground pork extruded from the grinder in greasy, wet, undulating spurts, I asked him how the neighborhood, now marked by the flower boxes and rising rents, has changed since his days sweeping floors for sodas. "It was shit worse," he said, laughing. "But it was so bad you didn't know it was bad."


It was all Lucille Salerno's idea. She owned Salerno's, an Italian restaurant out in Flower Mound. "You need to sell Italian food," she told Mike in the mid-1990s. "Nobody sells Italian food anymore."

Cured sausages and sandwich meats make Jimmy's deli counter one of the city's best.
Sara Kerens
Cured sausages and sandwich meats make Jimmy's deli counter one of the city's best.

For 37 years, Al's Food Store, a Greenville Avenue grocery that sold meatball sandwiches alongside other ethnic foods, was the go-to place for Italian Americans in Dallas. But when owner Al Cascio died in 1988, his kids slowly lost the passion for pasta and salami. Al's closed in 1995, and Dallas' Italian Americans were left without a home.

Mike didn't want to sell Italian food. The lifelong grocer was used to low-priced staples like commodity meats and cheap rice. He didn't know how to turn a profit on charcuterie and high-priced tomatoes from the other side of the globe. But the idea was interesting enough to bring to his brother Paul, and Paul was less hesitant. He thought it was time to embrace the family's Sicilian roots.

He started by tweaking a few of the family recipes. He pulled the citrus and beef from the holiday sausage, scaled the recipe and amped up the links with lots of garlic. Mom Marie's sauce from Sicily got scaled, too, so they could make enough red to make all that sausage swim. Finally, in 1997, Jimmy's re-branded itself as the neighborhood Italian market, and soon the shop was filled with so much Prosciutto di Parma and Cento tomatoes that you'd never know that it used to sell anything else.

Nowadays, Italian soccer flags hang from the exposed rafters of a ceiling that's open, save for a few pieces of pressed tin that hang over the front registers and café tables up front. Shelves filled with pasta, wine, canned tomatoes, canned fishes and canned relishes and condiments run the length of the store. A small produce cooler displays onions, potatoes and tired broccoli rabe. On the days that they cook up a batch, the whole place smells of slowly simmering tomato sauce, but every day the meat case is filled with trays of freshly made sausage.

It starts with pork shoulder, which comes in deboned and vacuum-packed in 80-pound cases. I watched as Eric Tatum, a friend of White's who also worked for sugary handouts back in the day, cut the shoulders into chunks a little smaller than a tightly clenched fist. He tossed each chunk into a large white food-service bin until it was full.

That's when White grabbed a small plastic bucket of seasoning. The DiCarlos won't tell me what's in it, but I saw layers of fennel seed, salt and a mix of ground red pepper and chili for heat. White dumped the bucket over the cubed pork and dove in with two gloved hands to mix things up.

After a pass though the grinder he added a measure of water to help disperse the seasonings. Garlic was mixed in, too, a heavy amount of pre-minced cloves from another white plastic container. After more mixing, White ran the seasoned pork through the grinder again, this time with a stuffing tube clamped over the opening of the machine. He carefully threaded a length of hog casing over the stuffing tube and then, with a flip of the switch, guided six feet of freshly cased sausage into another white plastic meat bin in seconds.

Eric Tatum will twist the sausage into links if you like. He uses the length of his hand to measure each portion, which works out to about a third of a pound per link. Most times, though, the cased sausage is left in a large, spiraling coil. Other times it's left loose with no jacket at all, ready to be fried up and sprinkled over pizzas all across Dallas.


A few years back, Greg Katz and Nick Badovinus were researching the new menu for the Consilient Restaurant Group's latest offering, Fireside Pies. They needed interesting toppings to help differentiate Henderson Avenue's newest pizzeria, and Katz, who occasionally brought in sandwiches from Jimmy's, mentioned the shop's sausage. They bought a few links and roasted them in a skillet in their wood-fired pizza oven. After the sausage cooked, they dipped bread into the rendered fat.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 
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