Friday, July 01, 2005

French dippin' since 1908

As Philadephia has its cheesesteak rivalries, Los Angeles has its French dip wars. Philippe's the Original opened its doors near downtown Los Angeles in 1908 and looks every year of it. It's among LA's oldest restaurants and disputably claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. A mile away, the equally old Cole's P.E. Buffet also lays claim to its invention.

While Cole's has a great bar atmosphere that's been used as a set for more than 450 films and TV productions over the years, I am unapolgetically a Phillippe's partisan. Step inside and notice the ancient cash register mounted atop an old fashioned candy counter. Sawdust covers a wooden floor well worn by the shuffle of generations of Angelenos: millions over the decades have come for the simple pleasures of its famous sandwich.

Lunchtime crowds scan the menu

This sandwich survived the Depression years, so expect nothing fancy. No Wagyu beef, no panini press, no artisanal bread. What you get is plainly roasted beef, lamb, pork, turkey or ham sliced to order by your counterperson, and laid atop a French roll that's been dipped in au jus. A cheese of your choice is optional. My favorite's simple: lamb and blue cheese, single dipped. A single dip moistens just enough for takeout sandwiches. Double dipped rolls are best eaten right away, as they can sog the bread a bit too much. Smeared heavily with some sinus searing Phillippe's mustard, this is a lunch I'd happily eat until I look like the wizened old veterans who've sat in the same benches since the Roosevelt administration.

Philippe's The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, California 90012

Cole's P.E. Buffet
18 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, California, 90014

PS - For a fancified French dip sliced from roasted prime rib, try the one at the Houston's chain. Many locations across these here United S of A. Served with shoestring potatoes, it's a damn fine, if yuppified and corporatized version of the 1908 originals at about 4 times the cost. But in a good way.


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