Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Holidays With Al's Beef: Christmas In Chicago

I've written before that Chicagoans are known for their ability to eat. Imagine then, if you will, how it goes down during the most gluttonous time of the year. Yes, no trip to Chicago around the holidays would be complete without stuffing one's face, and while I did it in many ways--from our traditional Filipino Feast festivities to sickening amounts of shawarma--I can think of few better ways for the Chicago ex-pat to get in the spirit of the season than by eating a beef with hot.


It was Christmas Eve Eve, and the family and I were wading through the hoards of last minute shoppers and camera-toting tourists, surrounded by the sounds of Salvation Army bells, the howling Loop wind and the incessant, rhythmic pounding of some Chicago Bucket Boys. We had just finished checking out some pathetic Christmas windows at the State Street Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields) and needing some serious cheering up. Luckily right around the corner--on Wabash and Jackson to be exact--is a much lovelier window:


Yes, after staring at "Christmas" windows that were just product placements for mostly evil celebrities, it was a relief to see the window of Al's Beef , which didn't need to disguise itself behind glitter and Christmas lights. We stepped out of the frigid winds and in to the welcoming warmth of Al's. The air heavy with the aroma of steamy beef: Think roasting chestnuts but with beef juice and hot peppers. In the spirit of the holidays I up-sized to a large Italian beef with hot peppers though my wife stuck with a regular. Also in the name of Christmas and all things holy, I got us a large order cheddar fries.

Downstairs in the downtown location is all stand-up counter dining--complete with a life-size photo (and detailed instructions) of a fat guy demonstrating how Al's wants you to eat your beef. This is all well and good, but not possible while shouldering a squirming infant, so we headed up to sit and dine like the tourists that we now are.

Eat too many beefs the right or wrong way, 
you will end up looking like this guy

If you have been chronicling my beef adventures (OK, I know you haven't so I'll catch you up) then you will know that while I've had some decent beefs over the years I haven't had a really good one. Al's Beef, in case you are wondering, is a really good one.


The large seemed just right as one whiff of that steaming shaved beef--one look at those lovely hot peppers--made me imagine that I would not be able to get enough beef that day (I was wrong--I got enough). I twisted my baby off to one side and went in with one hand. I managed to get most of what I wanted in my mouth, and while fending off very determined baby hands I did my best to savor each tender, juicy and spicy bite.


After several overly enthusiastic mouthfuls I turned my attention to the copious cheddar cheese sauce slopped all over Al's excellent fries. It was insanely rich and just the type of holiday overindulgence that I was hoping to get into on this trip.


And overindulge I did. This meal marked the start of six days of frenzied and non-stop eating. And while my stomach was not exactly pleased by about day four, I am hoping this marks the start of a new holiday tradition: Al's Christmas Beef.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.

Al's Beef on Urbanspoon

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