With all the new franchises and formula restaurants we seem to get in this area, it is nice to know we still have some really awesome independent operators in our county.
The Algonquin Sub Shop is one such anomaly.
It is owned by Chef John Ryals, who learned his craft at the famous Yoshi’s Café in Chicago. In 1993, he moved out here and decided he could make a better sandwich. He opened his doors with six sandwiches on the menu; now he has 24, and he is always adding through experimentation of his daily specials.
The armies of loyal groupies that frequent this place understand the cult following John has developed.
For those of you who don’t, you have to learn a few things.
First, the Algonquin Sub Shop does everything from scratch. The bread — although par baked and delivered to the restaurant daily — is John’s recipe, and his soups — four available each day — are homemade fresh every day. At peak times, you may have to wait in line for your order, but it is well worth it — and the locals know it.
Although I have been here many times and usually get something to go, I made an official visit recently with fellow food expert The Rev. Jerome Koutnik of St. Thomas The Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake — expert by the fact that he is the only man I know who can eat his caloric body weight daily.
We sat down and ordered a few sandwiches right after the sub shop opened, thinking we would beat the crowd. Well, we figured wrong, as the dining room filled up shortly after our soup and chili arrived. The chili topped with Bermuda red onion was great. Father Jerome loved his soup so much he ordered a second bowl (no lie). Three sandwiches arrived while Father inhaled his second bowl of homemade goodness: the “Al Capone,” an Italian combo; the “Gobbler,” which is turkey heaven; and the day’s special, which was “Taste of Tuscany.”
The first two are staples on John’s menu, and he sells tons of them — they are great. I love the way they slice that Bermuda onion and pickle on the sandwich. It’s delicious.
The Taste of Tuscany, however, was out of this world. It was full of Italian sausage and warm goat cheese with Nicoise olives.
We had all the sandwiches cut into three sections instead of the normal two so we could taste more and not fill up.
Wrong again. We emptied every basket.
I had my notebook out, and it soon became obvious to all those around us — by Father Jerome self-engaging with every other human being in the world — what I was there for. At that point, everyone in the dining room had to tell me how long he or she had been coming there, plus share his or her favorite sandwich.
I knew this was a family restaurant, but I thought the family was behind the counter — and they are — but John’s customers are as much a loyal family as any I know.
As we sat there, stuffed and listening, one particular customer who was waiting for a burger to go kept going on about how good the burgers are. I thought, well, we can make this a test. Can a sandwich shop with over-the-top sandwiches make an over-the-top burger as well?
The answer is yes! I was completely full — no, stuffed — when I tried one of the shop’s burgers, but it was like I hadn’t eaten all day, it was that good. Melted provolone and red onion on a half-pound burger — I’d stack it against any burger in the county.
John Ryals is doing it right. And this year, he is joining me in our weekly newspaper football contest in the Northwest Herald. He says he going to kick my (insert the first letter of each of the three words that comprise his business title here). Well, he can make a great sandwich, that’s for sure. Let’s see if he knows football.
The Algonquin Sub Shop is at 105 Filip St. in Algonquin, but everyone knows it’s on Route 31 next to the Clark gas station. Call John at 847-658-0680, and tell him I sent you.