Located on a picturesque, tree-lined street in Evanston, Ill., just a few blocks away from Northwestern University's campus is a quaint storefront that's very easy to miss if you're not actively seeking it out. Inside Al's Deli is a rich selection of chips, cookies, candies, sodas, and other imported edibles from Europe. Next to the gourmet collection are two small deli counters, connected to form the shape of an "L". Behind the counter is Bob Pottinger, who inherited the shop from his father, Al, and continues to run the operation with his brother in the same manner that their father did since opening the deli in 1949.
The thing that sets the sandwiches apart at Al's is the attention to detail. All of the meats in their signature sandwiches are roasted, smoked, and baked in-house, the dressings and spreads are homemade too, from the bernaise sauce to the garlic aioli, to the blue cheese dressing. But the dedication to quality and authenticity doesn't stop there, as perhaps the most remarkable component of Al's sandwiches is the bread. The story goes that Pottinger came across a boulangerie in Paris that made such exceptional baguettes that he took a few back to the States and convinced the bakers at the local Red Hen Bakery to figure out the recipe — it took the bakers six weeks to recreate the baguette and Al's has been getting their sandwich bread from them ever since.
While there are certainly more than a few outstanding options at Al's, their smoked turkey sandwich with aioli, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, and red onion on a baguette is a true star. The turkey, which is subtly smokey and slightly sweet, is sliced thick and piled onto the chewy, crunchy baguette. The sharpness of the cheese and the creamy freshness of the homemade aioli complete the harmony of every bite.
College towns are generally known for having great food, as far as burgers and wings are concerned. And while Evanston is certainly no exception, when it comes to sandwiches it's the handcrafted, thoughtful creations at Al's that make this spot a Northwestern gem.
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