Goodbye Wicker Park Vegan Restaurant, Hello Al's Italian Beef

By Alisa Hauser on January 22, 2013 10:46am 

WICKER PARK — The Italian beef sandwich needs no introduction in the city that made it famous.

But in case anyone's curious, another spot to score a gut-buster made of thinly shaved roast beef served in juices that soak up a roll will soon be available in Wicker Park.

By Feb. 1,  Al's Beef plans to open its seventh location in the city at 1300 N. Milwaukee Ave. on the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Paulina Street —  a space that most recently was home to a fast-food vegan restaurant, Veggie Bite.

Currently, the neighborhood has just two other sources of Italian beef sandwiches: Gratto at 1341 N. Damen Ave. and Jay's Beef at 2255 W. North Ave.

Al's Beef has 12 locations in the Chicago area, including six in the city. The Little Italy location on Taylor Street has drawn national attention, earning awards for its beef and landing on national food shows.

Manager Chloe Mister, who will operate the Wicker Park location with her father, Carl Mister, an experienced fast food franchisee, told DNAinfo.com that "between part and full time, there will be 20 new jobs" at Al's Beef.

Carl Mister previously owned and operated two fast-food chain restaurants on the city's South Side for 10 years.

The businessman said he "likes the idea that [Al's Beef] sells street food" and praised the chain for being "a wonderful brand, with a lot of potential and a tremendous opportunity."

Carl Mister's wife and another daughter will fill in when they can, making it a true family business.

While the menus vary slightly at each Al's Beef outpost, the Milwaukee Avenue Al's will feature the chain's mainstays Italian beef sandwiches — which have received accolades from numerous food critics — as well as sausages and hot dogs served both Polish and Maxwell Street style, the former having grilled onions and sport peppers and the latter with relish and chopped onions.

The beef sandwiches come in three sizes (Little Al, $4.85; Regular Al; $6.15 and Big Al, $7.95).

 Chloe Mister and her father Carl Mister are bringing the Al's Beef franchise to Wicker Park, at 1300 N. Milwaukee Ave.  When Al's Beef opens "around Feb. 1," it will be the chain's seventh city-based restaurant and 12th in the Chicago area.
Chloe Mister and her father Carl Mister are bringing the Al's Beef franchise to Wicker Park, at 1300 N. Milwaukee Ave.  When Al's Beef opens "around Feb. 1," it will be the chain's seventh city-based restaurant and 12th in the Chicago area.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

The menu also features eight varieties of french fries, from "Nacho Fries" with sharp cheddar cheese sauce and jalapeno peppers to "Bleu Cheese Fries" containing chunky blue cheese dressing and spicy buffalo sauce.

For those with lighter appetites (or on diets), there are five salads to choose from, including a "Dr. A's Carb Buster."

While there's space for about 40 customers between booths and tables, it's noteworthy that two stand-up counters at the front of the restaurant are reserved for those who prefer to eat in an upright position.

The stand-up spots pay homage to Al's early roots as a small curbside stand that opened in 1938. Eaters had no choice but to eat standing up. After a bit of coaching on what franchisee training manager, Adam Bufano, called "The Italian Stance," Chloe Mister was all smiles holding an imaginary beef sandwich Monday.  

"Feet shoulder length apart, about two-and-a-half feet from the counter," instructed Bufano.

Bufano has been with the chain for six years. He eats a beef sandwich almost every day and "never gets tired of it," he said.

Bufano will be sticking around the new Al's Beef for about a month to assist the Mister family in getting it up and running, and then said he plans to head off to Las Vegas, Nevada and San Jose, Calif., where the chain plans to expand.

Al's Beef in Wicker Park offers dine-in, carry-out and catering.

Hours of operation are 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 773-663-4800.

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