Just as pizza, burgers and hot dogs have unique regional variations, so do sandwiches whether you call them heros, hoagies, subs, wedges, grinders, po'boys, torpedos or zeps. Narrowing that down further we have roast beef. Not to be confused with Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, there are some interesting local and regional variations on roast beef sandwiches which are now available in NYC. Interestingly, the Chicago version, popularly referred to as Italian Beef, whose most well known purveyors include Mr. Beef and Al's #1 Beef, the rivalry between which is as intense as Pat's vs. Geno's for Philly Cheesesteak supremacy, is not (yet) represented here in NYC. Chicago Italian Beef sandwiches are served on long Italian hero breads and covered with giardiniera, pickled vegetables in olive oil. There's also Philippe's in Los Angeles, credited for inventing the "French Dip": a hot roast beef on a baguette submerged in the au jus drippings.
As for local styles of roast beef, we have the following: Brennan & Carr's wonderful shack opened in1938 on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn which, like Philippe's, moistens (or drowns depending on your preference) it's roast beef sandwiches, here served on rolls, in it's famous broth. Roll-N-Roaster, coincidentally also originated in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, has been around for a mere 40 years and is a step closer to it's Philadelphian cousin by the addition of cheese (cheez?) whiz to it's hot roast beef sandwiches. The Staten Island boys best known for the rapidly expanding Artichoke pizza joints, have opened This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef in the East Village, paying homage to both Roll-N-Roaster with their cheese whiz laden "This Way" and to Brennan&Carr's au jus dunked "That Way" sandwich selections. Finally, we must mention DeFonte's, born in 1922 in Red Hook and thankfully exported to Manhattan on Third and 21st, who serve huge roast beef Heros with homemade fresh mozzarella, natural jus and an optional slice of fried eggplant for added crunch.
Now the Bostonian's have entered the fray with Bowery Beef, located just around the corner from This Little Piggy in The Bowery Poetry Club. Bowery Beef is modeled on a relatively new regional style of roast beef sandwich started in the 80's in Massachusetts, North Andover to be precise, called Harrison's. Bowery Beef's owners, obviously caring about authenticity, even snagged Patrick Sweetra, a nice Swedish boy and long time slicer at Harrison's, to oversee the operation. But what is this unique regional roast beef sandwich you ask? I observed the whole operation. Industrial hamburger buns are branded with a miniature flame torched brand so that each bun displays a "BB" so as not be confused with the competition. Not to worry, since there are no comparisons with the Brooklyn born roast beef sandwiches. Thinly sliced rare hot fresh roast beef is shaved onto the bun and hand formed into a thick compressed pile. You then have a choice of white American cheese, mayo, mustard, horse radish and the de rigeur, James River sweet tomato based BBQ sauce from (where else?) Virginia! I got mine (2 of them at $6 each) with cheese, sauce and horse radish. Messier than even a fully submerged Brennan&Carr sandwich, it was nevertheless delicious and strangely satisfying. While I may prefer some of the other styles, there is certainly room enough to welcome a unique roast beef sandwich into the ever expanding melting pot of NYC sandwichdom.
Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012
308 Bowery, New York, NY 10012