All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
On a quiet weekday afternoon — quiet for Jimmy’s Food Store, anyway — owners Mike and Paul DiCarlo stand side-by-side at the registers as I walk in. As usual, I head straight for the deli and fresh meat counters to order a meatball sub. You know the drill: Orders are taken (there's usually a bay of folks waiting, holding little bags of chips) by leaning over the case filled with coils of Jimmy’s unbelievably good sausage and fresh, pounded-flat cuts of steak for braciole. Tomato sauce is stirred in a huge pot behind the counter. The smell is always warm and homey.
Dallasites are dedicated to Jimmy’s. On every visit, there’s a palpable feeling of electricity around the food. Everyone wandering the store seems to talk about what they're ordering and eating. In other words, at Jimmy’s, it’s not uncommon to talk about the joy of Jimmy’s. Stand behind the cold cut counter for a few minutes, where creamy Italian cheeses and pistachio-studded mortadella are being fast-wrapped in paper. Without fail, you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with a fellow patron. You're not a stranger at Jimmy's.
They call my name, and the meatball sub is placed on the counter in a Styrofoam container. It’s best with everything, which means onions and peppers. The blanket of cheese stretches as you pull apart the halves, and the meatballs are saucy and tender. The soft bread gives way to bright tomato sauce. It’s good. Damn good. It's also one of the best sandwich deals in Dallas.
“It’s been the meatball sandwiches, that’s my mom’s recipe,” co-owner Mike DiCarlo says. We’re sitting in Jimmy’s back room, a cozy spot, talking about which ones are favorites. Nearby, a couple of customers are devouring their own sandwiches with a bag of chips.
“The Italian sausage sandwich, that’s my brother’s recipe. Those have been our two best-sellers. Although, the one we get the write-up on all the time is the Cuban sandwich, which we just got off the internet,” DiCarlo says with a bright laugh. “That comes down to using good ingredients, though.”
It’s true. Watching fresh sausage in progress, the sausage that makes its way to many restaurants in Dallas, should be an official pastime. Get a pound of spicy, to-go, and tear off some of their fresh basil from Hawaii from the aisle of produce. Improvisation is pleasure at Jimmy’s. Come without a cooking plan and you’ll leave with one — and probably a lasagna, too.
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“We were a traditional grocery store for many years before we were an Italian store. When Al’s Food Store closed up about 20 years ago, that’s when we changed our store over. We weren’t always Italian all these years,” says DiCarlo, humbly.
We talk about history, and it's soothing to hear that business is as good as ever at Jimmy’s, and there aren't any changes to their model on the horizon. Heaven help the wave of gentrification that touches our salami sandwiches.
“I don’t like change. But it’s progress," DiCarlo says. "We’ll see what happens in the next few years. We have offers all the time to go different places. We like Dallas — we like East Dallas. As long as our parking situation stays OK, we’re going to stay here.”
Jimmy's Food Store, 4901 Bryan St.