LITTLE ITALY — Like the secret concoctions at Potbelly and Chipotle, turns out there are a few off-menu hacks at Chicago's own Al’s Italian Beef, too.
The secret menu items, crafted over decades by dedicated beef fans, can be ordered at any of Al’s #1 Italian Beef’s eight Chicago spots and other franchise locations.
"We had customers who would come in, regulars, who would order everything on the menu a dozen times and would say, 'Well give me a tamale, and put it in a hot dog blanket for me," said Adam Bufano, the company's head chef and a self-described "beef master.''
Bufano shared his top secret picks Friday at the chain’s West Loop location, 601 W. Adams St.
The Italian Soaker: A classic born in the late 1930s at Al's original Taylor Street location, the Italian Soaker was invented out of necessity — Italian immigrants too poor to afford the beefy real deal suggested owners sub in peppers instead, Bufano said. The soaker starts with French bread completely dipped in gravy (that's the juice the beef is soaked in) and topped with bell peppers. Not to be confused with the pepper and egg sandwich, which is not on the menu but is offered during Lent.
The Italian Soaker, a secret menu item at Al's Italian Beef. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Veggie Burger: This is NOT your typical veggie burger. While this sandwich gets all of the same toppings a normal burger, the beef patty is replaced with a handful of fries, creating french fry, bun-heavy madness. A vegetarian who wandered into Al's Beef's Las Vegas location is credited with creating it.
The Veggie Burger [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Tamale in a Blanket: Bufano's absolute favorite secret menu item is part tamale, part hot dog. The Al's crew wraps a tamale in a hot dog bun and dresses it like Big Al's original dog (with onions, sport peppers, relish and mustard), and finishes by wrapping it with fries.
Tamale in a Blanket [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Gypsy Fries: Named after Gypsies who would order the special treat time and again at the restaurant, the loaded fries are topped with Provolone or cheese sauce, sliced Italian beef, ladles of gravy and topped off with giardiniera. "It's a meal in itself," Bufano said.
Gypsy Fries [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Francheezie: A sliced hot dog topped with a hot slice of bacon, cheese sauce and wrapped with fries.
Francheezie [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
The Al's Poor Boy: French bread filled with fries and dipped in gravy.
The Al's Poor Boy [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
BLT: A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on french bread with mayo.
While it isn't on the menu, customers can order a BLT at Al's Italian Beef, too. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Fire Chili: Traditional chili spiced up with hot giardiniera oil.
The Fire Chili gets its kick from spicy giardiniera oil at Al's Italian Beef. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
The secret menu items range from $2.49 (The Italian Soaker) to $8.99 (Gypsy Fries).
Got a favorite that didn’t make Bufano’s list? Al’s Beef is asking fans to share their favorites for a chance to win a $100 gift card.
The first Al's #1 Italian Beef sandwiches were sold in 1938 at a Little Italy stand operated by Al Ferrari and his sister and brother-in-law, Frances and Chris Pacelli Sr. The family later opened the storefront at 1079 W. Taylor St. in Little Italy.
While Al's Italian beef sandwiches are a staple in Chicago, a franchise agreement has allowed the shops to expand to Nevada, California and Texas. And the chain locations are popular — when Al's latest franchise opened in suburban in Dallas in February, Texans ordered so many Italian beef sandwiches that the place completely ran out of food.
Adam Bufano, head chef of Al's Italian Beef, at the West Loop location. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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