When it comes to barbeque, the real question is, where to begin? Barbeque as a cuisine is very personal: it has so many varieties that each region, state, county, city, restaurant, and family has its own barbeque, and they know for a fact that theirs is the best. From Tennessee and the Carolinas, to the Midwest, to the state that is infamous for it, Texas, barbeque is pervasive throughout the United States. Now, luckily, as a sandwich lover, I got to eat some great barbeque in Texas, the state that gives you sliced white bread along with all that delicious slow-cooked meat.
Barbeque’s history stems from cooking methods in the Caribbean and Florida area. Originating from the word barabicu, the Spanish adapted it to barbacoa. This referenced a wooden framework on which meat could be cooked. Eventually, during colonial times, barbeque came to have the meaning it has today, with the added connotations of gathering with many people around large, slow-cooked meals.
Since doing one blog post about the entire culture of barbeque would be both overwhelming and way too long, I’ll stick with Texas since their way(s) of barbeque do fit into the sandwich category. Along with the tender barbeque they serve, restaurants will give you a nice helping of sliced white bread to use instead of (or in addition to) utensils. Now where this idea came from, I’m not quite sure, though one person in a online forum noted that it’s great for sopping up all the delicious juices. Though many people outside the barbeque culture seem to hate on the commercial white bread phenomenon, I think it’s pretty fantastic. Granted, white bread isn’t the healthiest, but what part of barbeque is? The second photo in the blog comes from Rudy’s in Austin. Seth and I decided to share since neither of us could decide what to get. The great thing about Rudy’s is that they’ll let you try pretty much anything you want until you decide. After a bout of sampling, we chose the moist brisket (you can also get lean, but why bother?), the smoked turkey, and a half rack of baby backs. I decided to make half sandwiches, and above you can see my brisket sandwich. Now, I could go on and on about how amazing all the meats were, but let me just say one thing…this brisket was more than moist. It was so delicious and tender that even after I thought I couldn’t fit one more bite, I kept eating it. The other meats were good too, but this brisket was pretty much out of this world.
Another thing about barbeque is the sauce. Again, doing an overview of all the different kinds of barbeque sauce would take a book in and of itself. Everyone makes their own sauce, and everyone thinks theirs is the best. Now Rudy’s sauce was good, but it had nothing on the sauce from Live Oak in Austin. I really wanted to take a picture of the sandwiches I made here, but after the first picture of the box of meats (photo #1), I dove in headfirst and didn’t come up for air or pictures until I was stuffed. The meats at Live Oak were some of the best I’ve ever had. We got a little bit of everything, from brisket, to pork steak, to ribs, to sausage. And as amazing as all of that was, it was the sauce that blew me away. Black, thick, and with a flavor that I couldn’t pin down, I asked the owner what was in it, and surprisingly, he actually shared the ingredients. For the most part, it contained all the usual suspects, and then he uttered one magical word: coffee. As a barista in my professional life, I just about died and went to heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever used that much sauce on anything in my life.
So ultimately, though we only hit two barbeque joints in Texas, I think I get the relationship between phenomenally cooked meat and mass produced white bread. It’s hearty, it’s starchy, it sops everything up perfectly, and most importantly, it’s damn tasty.
One beautiful winter day in Los Angeles, Chris and I decided that it was time for lunch, and, doggone it, we would find ourselves a delicious sandwich. One failed attempt later, Chris suggested that we check out an italian deli by his place that he had noticed. Having already wasted quality eating time getting lost and being teased by unopened cafes, Chris and I were hungry enough to take down a zebra each by the time we parked. And then we walked in.
It was the smell that hit us first. You know that scene in Ratatouille, the one where the critic with no soul takes a bite and is transported back to his childhood in the French countryside? That first aroma was just like that, except that it took me to an Italian childhood I never had (same for Chris, though that was actually his childhood). But seriously, the smell hit us so hard that it stopped us just inside the doorway and held us there for a full thirty seconds, just breathing it in, until we looked at each other, grinning.
Our noses took us straight to the hot case, where a proud Italian matron was lording over the sandwich proceedings. Above her, almost completely unnoticeable, was the sandwich menu. A simple board with an even simpler list, it looks so old that our first impression was that it had been there since the deli opened fifty years ago. What really confused us, you see, were the prices: this board proclaimed that the most expensive sandwich cost $5.50! After a good deal of questioning double takes, Chris and I decided to just go for it.
We immediately realized that ordering a sandwich can be quite an ordeal. Though there is no hard and fast rule regarding what goes on one of these sandwiches, if the Italian mama doesn’t like your selection, she won’t hesitate to make her disapproval known. On this first visit, Chris got a large, double meat pastrami, and I a large, combination sub. And then I made a mistake — I asked for mayo. Now you would think that by now, I would know to just take the food as it comes, but I am a sucker for mayonnaise. Let me tell you, the look she gave me made me want to move to a place where they’d never heard of mayo. After giving me a decisive “no” I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting, and took the footlong sandwich she handed me with all the gratitude and shame I could muster.
The shock that Chris and I received when we got to the register (a vintage metal till) and our two sandwiches and drinks cost about $12 was palpable. And though I must admit that the combo sub is not the best I’ve had, everything else is. The pastrami is just outrageously tasty, the meatballs and Italian sausage both taste like your grandma just made them (and ohhh how I wish the sandwich matron was my grandmother), and the beef and peppers may even top the pastrami. These days, I stick to a small sandwich (grand total with a drink is $4) because the bread is a little better and I can definitely take the whole thing down. I also stick to the hot sandwiches because it’s all homemade and sitting right in front of you wafting its delicious aroma in your direction.
But regardless of what it is that you get, everything is delicious. Coincidentally, we never would have found this place if our first choice hadn’t been deserted. I suppose it just goes to show, having an open mind and trying new things really can lead to great places…and great sandwiches.
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to do a post about Fromin’s because it’s one of those places that is the ultimate Jewish deli. Growing up in Santa Monica, I think I ate Fromin’s almost every Sunday for about five years.
When I went to Fromin’s with Sara, I decided to get the hot pastrami sandwich (on rye of course) which comes with a lovely little bowl of au jus on the side (not pictured). As far as this sandwich goes, I don’t have a whole lot to say – this sandwich was even more simple than my last post and about eight million times better. Perfectly cooked pastrami that juicily melts in your mouth, some swiss cheese, a touch of dijon mustard, and fluffy rye bread. Dip an already great sandwich in au jus, and of course it only gets better. Which all goes to show that if done right, simple can be awesome.
The other interesting thing about Fromin’s is that it is only about four blocks away from another well known Santa Monica Jewish deli called Izzy’s, and the community seems to be loyal to one deli or the other, but not both. This may also stem from the fact that the clientele at each restaurant is very different. Izzy’s is open 24 hours and is the kind of place that has a million pictures of the owner with various celebrities…the demographic here is much more varied and includes tourists, hoodlums, and a spattering of 10-13 year olds from the middle school up the street (in addition to the diner loving Jews of Santa Monica). Fromin’s, on the other hand, has pretty much one type of customer: the elderly Jewish couple. In fact, when Sara and I went, we were the youngest customers by at least 40 years.
Now, you may be thinking, why are you a Fromin’s customer instead of an Izzy’s kind of girl? Wouldn’t you rather be among people who are closer to your peers? Well let me tell you. The Jewish deli is a place that I feel has been robbed of its true nature, especially in Southern California. Instead of feeling like local spots where everyone knows each other and the food is just like grandma used to make, they give off a very commercial vibe. It always seems to me like I’m caught in a tourist trap: welcome to SoCal, the land of the Jews…you must be this tall to ride. Look! Real Jewish grandparents eating knishes and borscht! Fromin’s feels real – no show, no gimmick, just the same people working and eating day after day. THIS is why i love Fromin’s. Every single person seems to have an emotional connection to this deli, whether you grew up having their chicken noodle soup when you were sick, or it’s the place your grandparents took you every Saturday after your soccer game.
The French Dip sandwich. This delicious iconic American sandwich is usually served on a French roll with a side of au jus for dipping, but Philippe’s, one of two restaurants that claim to have originated the French Dip, dips the entire sandwich just prior to serving. This unique style comes from the story of the sandwich’s creation: one day in 1918, ten years after the restaurant opened, Philippe himself was making a sandwich when he accidentally dropped the roll into a roasting pan filled with still-hot juices from the oven. The customer took the sandwich anyway, and the next day, brought back friends who all requested the “dipped sandwich.”
Philippe’s serves its dip sandwich with either beef, pork, ham, lamb, or turkey, and you can get it single-dipped, double-dipped, or wet. I got a single dipped, beef with American cheese, and was blown away. The whole thing just melted in your mouth: between the super tender beef, the melty cheese, and the firm but juice-soaked bread, the Philippe’s French Dip started a party in my mouth.
The other restaurant that lays claim to the invention of the French Dip is Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet…which will have to be checked out on another sandwich adventure…
The Brentwood Country Mart is a great place for shopping and eating: located on 26th St just before San Vicente, the Country Mart hosts a food court-esque area as well as high end stores. One of these eateries, Reddi Chick, has been there since 1979 serving up some of the best rotisserie chicken around. They also delve into the barbeque side of things with ribs, coleslaw, and a full baked potato menu that has over 30 different options.
My usual order from Reddi Chick is a chicken basket: about half a chicken covered in great french fries. This time, however, I decided to try one of their sandwiches, partially because I needed a sandwich for AOAS and partially because my brother had tried the teriyaki steak and I thought I would too. My brother had told me that in terms of easy eating, this sandwich was no picnic: huge chunks of steak stuffed into a french roll does not make the most secure of sandwiches. This, sadly, was the least of my problems with this sandwich. The meat was very dry, possibly because it was the end of the day and just before closing, but regardless, it should have been juicier. The sandwich also needed more stuff on it; I ended up adding barbeque sauce, and after still not being satisfied, had to pile coleslaw on it to help with the flavors.
Ultimately, I was rather disappointed with this sandwich. I will, however, be giving Reddi Chick sandwiches another chance and will try the chicken sandwich, since I know the chicken is good. Considering how much I love this place, I was expecting much more.