I’m always looking for the buzz around here. The latest talk going down in the MiMo scene is Government Street’s Jonelli’s. Located next to Griffith’s Service Station between Ann and Georgia streets, this spot has breathed new life into a long-vacant building.
The owner is reportedly from Chicago and the food reflects it. Sandwiches, peppers, dogs and deep-dish pizza fill the chalkboards, saving one spot for the odd quesadilla. Facebook posts about this place are through the roof. The funny thing is the guy doesn’t have a Facebook page. They haven’t been open long but I figured I better jump on the bandwagon before I miss out on what everyone is making a big deal over.
It was Calamity Courtney’s birthday but she was nowhere to be found. I offered to buy her a sandwich, even to pick her up and drop her off at her house, but the message went unanswered. So I walked into Jonelli’s solo and ordered enough food for an army so I could take it home and sample bit by bit.
The first thing I notice is that this place is clean as a whistle. The bathrooms are spotless. The floor is immaculate. The outdoor seating is somehow cool. It’s bright and open with indoor dining at counters that line the walls where I sat patiently waiting for my grub as I dug the playlist coming from the overhead speakers. “Well the moon is broken and the sky is cracked … come on up to the house,” belted Mr. Tom Waits. He’s my favorite, so I had a feeling this joint and I would get along fine.
Stellar music seemed to shorten my wait for the food. The first to come out was the Italian beef sandwich ($7). There has been a bit of a love/hate relationship with this sandwich in the grapevine chatter ever since they opened the doors. Some complain it is far too soggy. The soft bread and the overstuffed meat are dipped in au jus and for many it is off-putting. I wanted it exactly as it was intended and I tell you, dear brothers, the sandwich is perfect. If you don’t like that sort of thing, simply order the au jus on the side.
Don’t expect the crunch of onions and peppers or the gooiness of cheese you may find in a Philly cheese steak. This is no Philly. The juice and the bread make the meat a little more palatable but I added the crunch by ordering a side of hot giardiniera ($0.75). The mix of peppers, carrots, celery and more was pretty hot and the perfect complement. Next time I will order the combo of beef and Italian sausage for a buck more.
So here is a side item new to the Mobile scene. Garlic fries ($2) are exactly what you think. Crinkle-cut fries topped with buttery minced garlic are too weird to not enjoy. The boss man said they began with hand-cut fries but the result was too soggy. They’ve recently made the change to pre-cut.
I asked if they could do the same with the onion rings. “Well, I’ve never been asked that.” Perhaps a new menu item is born.
About the time I finished the sandwich, in walked Calamity Courtney. She vowed she wanted no part of any birthday dinner but couldn’t resist trying a Chicago-style mushroom quesadilla ($6) and a Mellow Yellow in a can. It was really good. The mushrooms and the cheese were nothing to sneeze at but the salsa that accompanied it was stellar. Courtney offered up this description: “A cheesy amalgamation of troops of tender, mellifluent mushrooms swaddled in a supple tortilla with handcrafted piquant salsa.”
I’m not so sure, but I think that means she likes it … showoff.
Back at the crib I was finally able to try the Chicago hot dog ($4), which came with the perfect amount of mustard, raw onion and peppers, relish and a pickle spear on a poppy seed hot dog bun. Yes, I’m of the persuasion that ketchup does not belong on a hotdog. I was pleased to see this one was topped with all the things I enjoy. If my kids were along for the ride they would definitely have some special requests, but this dog suits me to a “T.”
I was instantly a fan of Jonelli’s. All of the social media noise was true, and I could see why people were quick to recommend it. I have but one complaint: there is no dessert. Girls love dessert. And when it’s a girl’s birthday she expects some kind of sugary treat at the end of a meal. Throw some ice cream in the freezer or some cookies on the counter and this place will be gold.
It’s good, it’s cheap, it’s Chicago, and it’s just what Mobile needed at that spot. I’ll be back soon. Happy Birthday, Courtney!
1252 Government St.