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Al's Steak House, Owner John "Big Al" Severson's Cheesesteaks in Del Ray - Open Again after Mr. Severson's Passing


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The last time (and I do mean last time) I was in Al's the owner, who I assume is Al, yelled at a woman calling her a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" because she had the audacity to ask why it took 45 minutes to make her sandwich when someone who came in after her and order the exact same sandwich had already been given their order. She asked politely, and Al's behavior was absolutely unacceptable. I think that it is fitting that he has an autographed picture of Ike Turner on the wall, the personalities match.

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The last time (and I do mean last time) I was in Al's the owner, who I assume is Al, yelled at a woman calling her a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" because she had the audacity to ask why it took 45 minutes to make her sandwich when someone who came in after her and order the exact same sandwich had already been given their order. She asked politely, and Al's behavior was absolutely unacceptable. I think that it is fitting that he has an autographed picture of Ike Turner on the wall, the personalities match.

OOOOOH! Letter to the Editor! Letter to the Editor! Do it!!!! biggrin.gif

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The last time (and I do mean last time) I was in Al's the owner, who I assume is Al, yelled at a woman calling her a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" because she had the audacity to ask why it took 45 minutes to make her sandwich when someone who came in after her and order the exact same sandwich had already been given their order. She asked politely, and Al's behavior was absolutely unacceptable. I think that it is fitting that he has an autographed picture of Ike Turner on the wall, the personalities match.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you want a sandwich from Al's without the wait, call ahead and place your order (a lesson I learned the hard way). They will generally tell you how long it will be and a 45 minute to a one hour wait is not unheard of; especially if one of the local fire stations or the police department calls in a big order. The guy who got his sandwich ahead of the person described by the proprietor as a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" probably did just that. Al's is truly a local establishment and the owner supports local youth sports teams, such as an "Al's" little league baseball team. There are trophys. I ran into the owner at the local Giant one morning, he was buying a case of lettuce because his supplier had let him down. And when the wait is at the 45 minute level, you can bet they are busy back there and don't have the time for any explanations.

ETA: If it had been a guy, the proprietor probably would have called him something in the nature of a "stupid f***ing a******.

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Forewarned is forearmed. If you want a sandwich from Al's without the wait, call ahead and place your order (a lesson I learned the hard way). They will generally tell you how long it will be and a 45 minute to a one hour wait is not unheard of; especially if one of the local fire stations or the police department calls in a big order. The guy who got his sandwich ahead of the person described by the proprietor as a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" probably did just that. Al's is truly a local establishment and the owner supports local youth sports teams, such as an "Al's" little league baseball team. There are trophys. I ran into the owner at the local Giant one morning, he was buying a case of lettuce because his supplier had let him down. And when the wait is at the 45 minute level, you can bet they are busy back there and don't have the time for any explanations.

The person who got his sandwich first ordered at the window right before me, and quite a long time after the woman did, but frankly, that is beside the point. There is NEVER a justification for treating people like he does no matter how busy it is. The man is abusive plain and simple, I just cannot understand making excuses for such nefarious behavior. Trotting out his support of youth leagues is doing just that.

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The person who got his sandwich first ordered at the window right before me, and quite a long time after the woman did, but frankly, that is beside the point. There is NEVER a justification for treating people like he does no matter how busy it is. The man is abusive plain and simple, I just cannot understand making excuses for such nefarious behavior. Trotting out his support of youth leagues is doing just that.

I was just trying to stick up for my neighbor, he's only a block away.

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The last time (and I do mean last time) I was in Al's the owner, who I assume is Al, yelled at a woman calling her a "Dumb F***ing Bitch" because she had the audacity to ask why it took 45 minutes to make her sandwich when someone who came in after her and order the exact same sandwich had already been given their order. She asked politely, and Al's behavior was absolutely unacceptable. I think that it is fitting that he has an autographed picture of Ike Turner on the wall, the personalities match.

 
Wow! If that was my wife or me, there would have been more than an exchange of words.

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That's awful! 45 minutes for a cheese steak (excuse me, I guess steak and cheese in these parts) is ridiculous (it's just a cheese steak!). But to receive verbal abuse on the side??

I'm crossing Al's off my list of places to try.

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That's awful! 45 minutes for a cheese steak (excuse me, I guess steak and cheese in these parts) is ridiculous (it's just a cheese steak!). But to receive verbal abuse on the side??

I'm crossing Al's off my list of places to try.

Agnes:

Putting aside the question of rudeness (unacceptable), as I noted above, the 45 minute wait problem can be avoided by calling ahead. They do most all their business at lunchtime and necessarily are busy (hence the 45 minute wait, soemtimes). The options are simple, do you want a small or large (a small is more than enought for 1 person and a large is enough for 2 people) and they will ask what you want on it. The version with provolone cheese is called "the Roman."

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That's awful! 45 minutes for a cheese steak (excuse me, I guess steak and cheese in these parts) is ridiculous (it's just a cheese steak!). But to receive verbal abuse on the side??

I'm crossing Al's off my list of places to try.

Jeez, I'd suggest we get out the torches and pitchforks and have a good ole necktie party. One heresay "i heard..." and people are going off the deep end...for something that may have been mumbled under-the breath, in response to a particularly snide comment, in frustration at a steadily changing order...any number of things that may frustrate someone...and so we all line up like good little widgets, ready to castigate someone for something more than likely taken totally out of context, not witnessed by more than one person who was an uninterested spectator...sheesh!!! Where is Michael Landrum when you need him to puncture supercilious souls?

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Jeez, I'd suggest we get out the torches and pitchforks and have a good ole necktie party. One heresay "i heard..." and people are going off the deep end...for something that may have been mumbled under-the breath, in response to a particularly snide comment, in frustration at a steadily changing order...any number of things that may frustrate someone...and so we all line up like good little widgets, ready to castigate someone for something more than likely taken totally out of context, not witnessed by more than one person who was an uninterested spectator...sheesh!!! Where is Michael Landrum when you need him to puncture supercilious souls?

I stand by what I wrote. There was nothing taken out of context. I can describe the entire scene to you if you wish. I was standing right next to the counter when it happened, and there is no doubt in my mind what occurred. And it was not mumbled. Hell, even the Post pointed out that he has a less than temperate personality, just go and violate his "No Cell Phone" rule that is plastered all over his walls.

I should have added that the sub while not bad, was certainly not worth the wait, or the show.

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The "N" word. How does that fit here?

Because he's drawing comparisons to that other infamous Al, Al Yeganeh of Soup Kitchen International? Although I've certainly never heard of Mr. Yeganeh calling a customer a DFB, serving people wildly out of order, or taking 45 minutes to give someone their soup. I think a "M'am, he placed this order earlier today," would've sufficed.

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The bread is not bad, Gold Crust does the baking, but they are soft rolls and not the harder ones like you get in Philly.

I stopped by for a cheesesteak today, first time. The bread is pretty decent, but the mushrooms (as feared) are indeed "butt mushrooms." That is to say, they are canned, which seals in both the mushroom and what seems like the taste and aroma of its fertilizer. The cheese is standard industrial American cheese, which stands on the prep station in a tall brick.

Did the person writing this article bother to eat one of the cheesesteaks? It is unclear. I had one and it was fine, except for the nasty ass mushrooms. Did she bother to investigate the owner's assertion that he uses "the best products available", preparing "all fixings at the shop each morning?" Clearly not.

I realize it's just a cheesesteak, but if you're going to be billed as one of the best, you have to be better than this.

Also, Gold Crust is technically "around the corner," but quite a ways down the road. It's like saying that Capital Grille is "around the corner" from the White House, which is technically true, but it leaves the wrong impression. This and the discrepancies noted above make me wonder if the reporter wasn't just given a whole spiel by the owner of Al's which she printed nearly verbatim.

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That was the first thing I noticed too. What happened to his rule no. 2: "Use the best products available." dry.gif ?

My guess is that very few cheesesteak places do up their own mushrooms from scratch. Anybody who tried that type of thing will have a hard time making a decent profit from a sandwich shop. Anyway, as the article quotes, a good one is basically steak, chese, and maybe onions (wit); mushrooms generally don't enter the equation, at least among purists.

Al's uses frozen steak slices from Murrray's. I was in there one day when the delivery guy showed up.
Don't get me wrong. His steaks are fairly good--used to be the best in the area until South Street in College Park came along.

And IMO he is absolutely right that American cheese is the best.

I don't think you can or should apply the same "freshness" standards to something like cheesesteak as you do to other things. Same as you wouldn't expect your Mom to make homemade tomato soup when she whips up a lunch of toasted cheese sandwiches and soup. That doesn't make the meal taste any less good. Cheesesteak is like that. It is what it is. Just MHO.

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First time poster, so I hope I'm doing this right.

I learned about Al's over the summer when the Post mentioned it in Style? Food? Source? It's definitely not high gourmet, but I've never been disappointed by a sandwich there.

 
I'm not from Philadelphia, but I've visited enough times to know a good cheese steak when I find one and this one's the best I've found. I haven't tried mushrooms because I always go for the basic, but I'm usually reluctant to order them on any sandwich unless I can tell that they're fresh, preferably wild, ones. Anyway, I was glad to see a cute article about a little guy who's doing it well.

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Cheesesteaks are cheesesteaks, I guess, but it is a shame that so many of them, especially the "authentic" ones, use cheez whiz or American cheese and forgo fresh mushrooms for canned ones. You can make a damn fine cheesesteak at home with fresh mushrooms and provolone, and I have a hard time understanding why so few of the many purveryors of cheesesteaks don't go this route. "Authentic" doesn't mean a lot to me if your sandwich tastes like ass.

And I take issue with the owner claiming in the Post to use the best products available and making all the fixings himself each day when that obviously isn't the case. But I have lots of issues. :)

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Speaking as a Philly native, to me it doesn't matter what kind of cheese you like on your steak. American? Fine. Whiz? Not my thing, but if that's what you grew up with, I can understand being upset if it's not even on the menu! Personally, I'm a Pizza Steak guy - provolone and pizza sauce wit' (onions). And the proper way is not to layer the sauce, onions, and cheese on top of the steak - you throw the whole mess on the grill, chop together, and then scoop into the roll.

Where Al's fails in authenticity IMHO is not the canned mushrooms or the cheese. It's the bread and the steak. He uses a soft sub roll, where the good places in Philly all use a crusty roll. And he uses frozen chipped beef, rather than sliced Choice-grade ribeye. It ought to taste like STEAK, goddamnit, not brown Sysco meat-like substance.

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It ought to taste like STEAK, goddamnit, not brown Sysco meat-like substance.

It's funny that you say that because growing up in the neighborhood, I remember when the former Yates Auto Parts, now some financing/mortgage company, used to be Murrays and I see their delivery truck all the time parked in the alley next to them. BTW, I am a little biased towards Al's, been going there ever since I can remember. It is what it is. dry.gif

eta: the rolls used to be from somewhere else, but once GCB moved in and started their heavy marketing program, they fell victim like everyone else.

ps. don't forget the hot peppers in the jar on the counter.

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BTW, I am a little biased towards Al's, been going there ever since I can remember. It is what it is. dry.gif

"It is what it is" - this is exactly what I mean by authentic. It doesn't mean best, but when you were from Philly, it didn't matter where you got the cheesesteak from, there were some base "rules" that they all followed. Amoroso crusty rolls, fresh ribeye, choice of provolone/american/whiz, grilled onions.

Al's might be a better tasting sandwich than anything I grew up eating in Philly (doubtful! biggrin.gif ), but it's not a Philly Cheesesteak.

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Has anyone been to Al's Steak House on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Alexandria? On another board (not CH) someone claims that this 53 year old place is the best in the area. I'm already skeptical of it because it advertises "cheesesteaks" and I have the attitude that if their "steak and cheese" (as it must have been called when they opened in the late '50's) is so good why are they calling it something different?

Still, has anyone been to Al's? How good is it? Anyplace that has a slogan on its menu like "Uncle Al, the nation's pal" is worth checking out.

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Has anyone been to Al's Steak House on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Alexandria? http://www.alssteak.com/ On another board (not CH) someone claims that this 53 year old place is the best in the area. I'm already skeptical of it because it advertises "cheesesteaks" and I have the attitude that if their "steak and cheese" (as it must have been called when they opened in the late '50's) is so good why are they calling it something different?

Still, has anyone been to Al's? How good is it? Anyplace that has a slogan on its menu like "Uncle Al, the nation's pal" is worth checking out.

I used to live a block away. Al's is "stop by if you're in the neighborhood" good, but I wouldn't make a special trip.

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Al's has their fans, but I think the Broiler's meat is a little more substantial, and I don't believe that Al's has chicken.

Al's does serve a chicken and cheese option....their subs are huge and tasty in the DC steak-and-cheese sort way..the rolls are not the greatest, but then what DC steak and cheese joint serves great rolls? It is a neighborhood institution, but unlike Philly places, the service is painfully slow and Al is a notorius curmudgeon. Not a place for a quick bite, but the wait is worth it if one is in the mood.

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Has anyone been to Al's Steak House on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Alexandria? On another board (not CH) someone claims that this 53 year old place is the best in the area. I'm already skeptical of it because it advertises "cheesesteaks" and I have the attitude that if their "steak and cheese" (as it must have been called when they opened in the late '50's) is so good why are they calling it something different?

because in Philly they are called Cheesesteaks, not Steak and Cheese. So, I guess Al wants to be known more towards the traditional style.

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I think Al wants to appeal to both the 'cheesesteak' crowd and the 'steak and cheese' crowd. On their menu, there is a Steak and American Cheese, but not one item is called a cheesesteak.

 
In fact, they spell it cheese steak, not cheesesteak. Dead giveaway. wink.gif

 
(although the hot peppers are a classic touch)

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because in Philly they are called Cheesesteaks, not Steak and Cheese. So, I guess Al wants to be known more towards the traditional style.

Respectfully, but "cheesesteak" did not exist here in the '50's. Steak and cheese is D. C.'s traditional style and name.

 
My guess is that he believes that he can sell more sandwiches by calling a steak and cheese a "cheesesteak" although he is probably making it exactly as he did 53 years ago.

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Had a cheesesteak with provolone and sauce last night at Al's. This is a very respectable cheesesteak; lots of meat, and a good roll (from Gold Crust Bakery on Monroe). I'm happy that I can get my Philly phix when the mood strikes.

 
Al's Steak House, Alexandria

eta: Al's serves Philly cheesesteaks, but they automatically ask if you want LTM on your sandwich!

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I have had an AL's before , pretty yummy, does anyone know how large is a large or any benefit from getting a large as opposed to two mediums ?

The atmosphere of AL's is great , reminds me of an old sandwich shop called Taneytown in Catonsville, just a counter with a guy yelling NEXT!!!!!

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I have had an AL's before , pretty yummy, does anyone know how large is a large or any benefit from getting a large as opposed to two mediums ?

The atmosphere of AL's is great , reminds me of an old sandwich shop called Taneytown in Catonsville, just a counter with a guy yelling NEXT!!!!!

I'm pretty sure Mr. MV and I ordered mediums, and we split fries (MUST stop doing that!), and I took half of my cheesesteak home.

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08/28/15 - "John 'Big Al' Severson, Owner of Big Al's Steakhouse, Dead at 73" by Chris Teale on alextimes.com

01/05/16 - "Del Ray's 'Al's Steakhouse' Closed for Good in Alexandria? #Developing" on redbricktown.com (*)

01/06/16 - "Al's Steakhouse: Temporarily Closed in Del Ray" by Mary Ann Barton on patch.com

(*) An excerpt from this article: "I know we've been the bearer of some really bad news in Alexandria, Virginia lately and this one, for me and I'm sure many others, hits hard. Many years ago, Owner John Severson, who passed away recently, was SO nice to me when I was homeless on the streets of Alexandria."

Jeez, I'd suggest we get out the torches and pitchforks and have a good ole necktie party. One heresay "i heard..." and people are going off the deep end...for something that may have been mumbled under-the breath, in response to a particularly snide comment, in frustration at a steadily changing order...any number of things that may frustrate someone...and so we all line up like good little widgets, ready to castigate someone for something more than likely taken totally out of context, not witnessed by more than one person who was an uninterested spectator...sheesh!!! Where is Michael Landrum when you need him to puncture supercilious souls?

Not so much hearsay, but an admitted uncertainty that the person involved was "Al" himself, as well as not knowing any possible corresponding backstory. We all have bad moments, but I place great value in the words of the former homeless gentleman who wrote the second article.

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The story says that a customer saw smoke coming from a light fixture and alerted them.  I hope that, if it was a rewiring gone bad, it was done by someone licensed/bonded/insured.

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Holy Cow on Mt Vernon is doing a pop up for Al's on July 14 at 530pm. All proceeds will go to help rebuild Al's. Way to go, Mango Mike!

Gotta say, I live in a pretty amazing neighborhood... Seeing "Where Main Street exists" was so cheesy when I first moved here, but it means something. 

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20 hours ago, Simul Parikh said:

Holy Cow on Mt Vernon is doing a pop up for Al's on July 14 at 530pm. All proceeds will go to help rebuild Al's. Way to go, Mango Mike!

Gotta say, I live in a pretty amazing neighborhood... Seeing "Where Main Street exists" was so cheesy when I first moved here, but it means something. 

More details on the pop-up here and here. As mentioned in the second link, Fireflies is accepting donations and a GoFundMe account has been created.

Such a sad opening day for the new owners, but it is heartening to see the local neighbors and businesses rally around what is truly a Del Ray institution. Here's hoping the repairs are done quickly and the reopening happens soon.

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Al's apparently reopened at the end of July. We saw the lights on a couple of weeks ago, and then decided to stop in over this past weekend. Bright, clean, freshly painted, and the cheesesteaks are the cheesesteaks. Two huge Romans, filled with steak and lots of stuff, jar of cherry peppers, tasty fries (though they're best when hot), pleasant people who repeat your order at least once to make sure they got it right. Result = food coma.

ETA: this is my 99th post, and I am now a Bottle of Beer on the Wall. I may never post again.  ;)

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Unless they have managed to make their steak taste like something other than cardboard, I will continue to pass.  It used to be, and probably is now, a great "looking" cheesesteak, but I can't get past the utter lack of beef taste in the meat.

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Just had Al's for lunch, as I had never eaten there.  I got the mushrooms, grn pepper and steak sandwich with onion rings.  I got the sandwich sans tomato.  I thought this was pretty good.  I don't know that it needs the mayo, although I decidedly like mayo.  The meat isn't super beefy, but I don't think it is bad either.  I think it is definitely Steak and Cheese category, not Cheesesteak, but as I am not a huge seeker of cheesesteaks, it suits my tastes just fine.  I saved half for later, as it is a big sandwich and I got onion rings.  

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