Walking in Evanston after Northwestern’s win last Saturday was a nostalgic affair for me. It hasn’t changed much. The foliage is so green and dense right now, after all the summer rain, that it crowds the sidewalks and tries to wrap you in a leafy embrace. To make this trip down memory lane even more complete, I was with my parents and uncle. (Why? Because they are AWESOME.)
Like any other child in her thirties, I threatened to throw a tantrum if we didn’t stop at my favorite sandwich shop on earth, Al’s Deli. (Their site is tres adorable — hopelessly devoted to all things French and foodie. You can even pay in Euros! C’est magnifique, non?)
It’s on Noyes Street (Al’s t-shirts read, ‘rue de Noyes’), shouting distance from where I lived my senior year, in the crappy, collegiate Parliament Apartments. An Evanston institution since the late 1940s, it’s run by two brothers (sons of the original Al!) who TRULY understand the concept of ‘sandwich artistes.’
Every single element of your sandwich is carefully measured and artfully placed — witness the delicate sliver of red onion on the Herkimer cheese sandwich — creating a transcendent balance of ingredients that will re-define everything you thought you knew about sandwiches and their proper place in the foodie pantheon.
To my everlasting joy, the brothers are still there, just as they were in 199ahem. (A little grayer, a little slower, but perhaps even better with age. Sigh, aren’t we all.) And the kids must think that Al’s is all right, because there was a line out the door and we waited for a good half hour to get the MOTHER OF ALL ROAST BEEF SANDWICHES.
I’ve never had anything like it, before or since. Just a tender, flaky croissant, roast beef, Havarti cheese, (lettuce and tomato if you’re into that), and a generous slather of unbelievably rich home-made Bearnaise sauce that squeezes out the sides with every bite, causing me to enthusiastically lick it off my fingers like melted ice cream. IT’S THAT GOOD. These brothers are an Evanston treasure — heck a national treasure! — and if there was a way I could keep them there, making me sandwiches for all eternity, this I would do.
In addition to the dream-wiches, they also make insanely good cookies. Word on the street (aka Yelp) is that each of their lemon-frosted butter cookies contains an entire stick of butter, and that if you don’t keep them refrigerated, they actually melt:
My uncle took one bite of his chocolate chip cookie, and immediately got back in line to buy two more. And that’s saying something, because Cookie Monster is a sad amateur compared to George. He’s the one who introduced me to the famous/infamous Babalu chipper in Santa Monica, and shares my familiarity with the chocolatey depths of decadence at Levain Bakery in NYC.
But on a tragic note, I could only eat half my sandwich. (Mostly because my bro-in-law Dan made delicious nachos the same night, and I’m only human.) So that the defining sandwich of its generation wouldn’t go to waste, I begged Dan to eat it for lunch the next day. Which he did. And pronounced it fan-druckin-tastic. (That’s a quote.) Now that I think about it, this may have been his cunning plan all along!
But Thanksgiving will be here soon, and with another holiday, comes another sandwich. YAY!