Thomas “TL” Lewis, owner of Baby Al’s Chicago Dog, tells us how his obsession with the Italian beef sandwich began. He makes his homemade beef every day for his customers, and the recipe is a secret.
“This was our old age plan. A guy we used to work for back in Chicago was named Terry. We used to compare getting old to Terry. We said, “We’re going to get a restaurant like Terry. And just sit back.” We knew in our heart of hearts that Terry was a millionaire. He had four restaurants, he had two laundry mats, he had a fruit stand. And we were like, “Yeah! We gotta do this!” But I lost my brother back in 2002. So when I got a chance to open this restaurant I knew I would name it after him.
We used to eat Italian beefs together. Italian beefs used to be like $1.30. So you cut grass, and do the “bottle hustle.” You say to your neighbors, “I’ll take out your trash for some pop bottles. I’ll rake your yard for some pop bottles.” So you save up the bottles and turn ‘em in for 10 cents each. You get 6 bottles and that’s 60 cents towards an Italian beef. And you also get a gravy bread. Gravy bread is only 30 cents, so you get that and an Italian beef, and move some meat around and you’ve got two sandwiches! That was the after school thing for us.
Now Atlanta is a transplant city. There are a lot of people here from Chicago. I had a lady who found us on Yelp. She came in and said, “I’m gonna try it. And if it’s real you’re gonna see the rest of my family. She got the Italian beef, then stood up and said, “It’s like I’m back home!” And then she left. When she came back there were three cars with her. She said, “I told you I would be back!” When you start talking about Italian beef, that’s a Chicago staple. ”
Try the Recipe
Wanna make some food from the Windy City? Try this recipe for the Chicago Dog.