Monday, November 3, 2008
Battle French Dip
The beef French dip on some macaroni salad. It's smiling at you, "Eat meeee!"
Actually there is no battle. The winner is Philippe’s in Los Angeles. It’s where the French dip was born, afterall. It’s been there since 1908 and they’ve been making the French dipped sandwich ever since owner Philippe Mathieu accidentally dropped a French roll into a roasting pan full of meat juices. The cop, who he was making the sandwich for, said he’d take it anyway. Yeah, why throw it out? The next day the cop came back with some friends and they all ordered French dipped sandwiches. Philippe's has been serving them the same way ever since.
There’s been some argument that Cole’s, which is just down the street in downtown LA, was where the French dip was invented. But they don’t often win that argument as Philippe’s is generally regarded as the author of the sandwich. Plus Cole’s sucks. We took Nieratko there and he hated it. The meat was all fatty and gross. As far as a dive bar goes, it’s kind of cool, albeit a little too seedy at times. Although it was recently bought up by some hipster nightclub guy, so who knows? All I know is that no matter how much improvement they put into that place, I’m still going to Philippe’s for French dipped sandwiches.
A view from the line. You can hardly read the menu 'til you get to the front, but you really don't need to. All you need to know is, "Beef French Dip."
Part of what makes Philippe’s so good is the experience. They moved into the present location in 1951 and it feels like nothing has changed since then. There’s saw dust on the floor and the walls are covered with memorabilia. Lots of train stuff. You walk in and get in one of the ten lines that usually stretch from the counter to the back wall. I hate lines, but I’ve never felt like I was in one at Philippe’s. At the front of the line on the other side of the counter is a little old Mexican lady in a smart, crisp uniform that is straight out of the 50s. The windows below the counter contain all kinds of culinary dinosaurs like macaroni salad, pickles, pickled eggs, pickled beets, and pickled pig’s feet. A cup of coffee is still only a dime. The little Mexican lady takes your order and then goes about putting it together for you. She scoops out salads from the trays below her and dips your bun in the juice beside her. When she’s done, she tells you your total and puts an empty tray on the counter. After you deposit your money in the tray, she takes it back to the central cashier, makes your change, and brings it back on the tray. I’m fascinated by the money on the tray thing.
If these ladies weren't so nice, I'd think they were robots because every one of them looks exactly like this lady.
It’s communal dining, so you often find yourself pulling up a stool at a long table already full of people from all over the place eating French dips. It’s even interesting during the off hours, because while the place is virtually empty, there’s always pockets of old Chinese men huddled together, arguing over the newspaper, and sipping on cups of coffee. China town is right around the corner.
Once I sit down, I pull over a jar of their hot mustard and lightly slather it on my sandwich. It’s really hot mustard, so a little goes a long way. They sell it in jars at the front alongside the gum, the candy, and the cigarettes. And then I devour the thing. I don't know how just meat and bread and jus can be so good, but it is.
Gettin' crazy with the Philippe's menu: the lamb dip with blue cheese.
The beef dip sandwich is the hands down favorite at Philippe’s, but on this last visit, which was shortly after their 100th anniversary, I decided that the only thing that could possibly challenge a Philippe’s beef dip sandwich, would be some other Philippe’s dip sandwich. So I decided to get a beef dip and then the weirdest combination I could muster: lamb dip with blue cheese. It was actually surprisingly good, but let me assure you it comes nowhere near the beef dip which triumphs over all challengers.
Although there is one challenger that Philippe’s beef dip sandwich cannot beat: Tania’s tits. In the battle between Tania’s tits vs. Philippe’s French dipped sandwich, Tania’s tits win… Acutally I'm not sure what could ever beat Tania's tits?