During winters in Chicago, Al's hometown, it's customary to use foods to stave off depression and to pad out bellies for warmth. The go-to food: the Italian beef sandwich.
At Al's, like at any decent shop, Italian beefs start with beef roasts. They're suspended over pools of steaming liquid, which catch the drippings of the roasts as they cooks, building into a delicious ocean of gravy. When the roasts are finished -- tender enough to be sliced, but not so tender that those slices fall apart -- they're cut paper-thin. The slices are then tossed into that steamy liquid to cool for a bit. That's when things get weird.
When you order your sandwich, a cook fishes meat from the depths of the gravy sea. It's heaped on a simple white bread roll and dressed with any number of options. Customers choose between sweet peppers and hot peppers (or both), between a few cheese options and no cheese. But the most important decision involves how messy of a sandwich they want. Pro tip: Always go messy.
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Order yours dry and the person taking your order will silently mock you from behind the register as your sandwich is wrapped in paper. Order yours wet and a cook will ladle more of that gravy over your sandwich before sending it down the line. But there's a third option, and it's the one you're going to pick as long as you're not wearing a starched white shirt. It's "dipped," which means the assembled sandwich is submerged in the gravy entirely.
This is a good time to discuss napkins. The guys at Al's are jerks for serving gravy-submerged sandwiches and the providing napkin dispensers that stingily dispense a single napkin at a time. A sandwich eater who has chosen dipped can eat with no fewer than seven napkins if they want to retain their dignity and relative cleanliness. I needed nine.
With gravy dripping from my chin I asked customers in line where they were from (several said Chicago) and what their favorite sandwich shop was back home (none of them said Al's). They came anyway, though, because Al's smelled like home, and if you want Italian beef, this is probably your most authentic option in Dallas. The meat and bread is shipped down from Chi-town twice a week. Then it ends up in a sandwich like the one you see pictured above. It's delicious -- how could it not be? But before you come, you should think about bringing your own napkins or paper towels. And maybe a mop?
Al's, 5000 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-770-0992