11/26/14

Roast Beef Sandwiches at Top Round Roast Beef

Between the premium burgers, artisanal hotdogs and handcrafted sodas, Los Angeles has become the land of elevated fast food.  So, maybe I should be surprised that there aren’t more places fixing to take on Arby’s style roast beef sandwich.

I’m not quite sure what happened to Arby’s place in the American fast food market. Throughout my childhood they were mentioned alongside McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. In my part of Pennsylvania you would have also had to add Hardee’s and Roy Rogers (do they still exist?) to the list but Arby’s was most definitely there.  Then I moved to Europe and when I returned to live in the States they had shifted to being the the butt of jokes from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

A  bit of a shame since it is difficult to argue with the fundamental concept of roast beef between bread.

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We were both craving meat on Sunday. One of those cravings where you know you want something but not exactly what that something might be. We just knew that it had to be something with meaty juiciness to satisfy carnivorous urges.

Top Round Roast Beef (1000 S. La Brea Ave.) has been on our radar for a couple months. The nostalgic burger stand vibe caught our eye.  Signs pushing their roast beef and frozen custard offerings certainly didn’t hurt. Since we couldn’t come up with any other definitive solutions to our craving we decided to take our chances with them.

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Top Round Roast Beef doesn’t have a vast menu. More like a list of variations on a few base recipes. Which, to me can work in the favor of a restaurant if they really focus and get those base recipes right. After all, what are most pizza places than a basic cheese pizza that they then mix up through different combinations of toppings.

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In the case of Top Round Roast Beef, they do have hot dogs and chicken but the majority of the majority of the menu is made up of roast beef sandwiches and fries. Each of the roast beef sandwiches starts with seasoned slow cooked roast beef and au jus on a butter toasted bun.

From there it is a matter of selecting what else you want on the sandwich. If you want something  basic there is the Beef & Cheese which is the roast beef, homemade cheese ‘wizz’ and round sauce (think Arby’s Sauce) on an onion bun. More adventurous offerings include the Bar-B-Cue which is the only sandwich where the roast beef is chopped rather than sliced. It’s then topped with fried onions, jalapeno straws, their Bar-B-Cue sauce and  Provel cheese on the onion bun.

I was tempted by that one but the jalapenos resulted in my spicy heat wimp tendencies giving it the veto. Instead,I went for the Horse & Hole sandwich.  It is made up of the sliced roast beef, Provel cheese, horseradish cream and  roasted mushrooms on a sesame bun.  I don’t know why I can’t do spicy heat but that I enjoy horseradish and mustard intensity. Go figure.

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Chris- he had the Original Roast Beef without any toppings – and I had the same reaction when we bit into our sandwiches. Which boiled down to – wow, it is actual roast beef. I’m not sure what we were expecting. Likely we were weighing it up against the thin slices that are piled onto an Arby’s sandwich. Instead, this was juicy pink roast beef sliced to a medium thickness. Just what our taste buds had been craving.

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A big thumbs up for Top Round Roast Beef’s  Horse & Hole sandwich. I loved the taste and mouth feel of the smooth melty cheese combining with the earthy flavors of the mushrooms. Any danger of blandness was blown away by the horseradish cream. Depending on the bite it delivered either a lovely taste bud tingle  or a sinus clear out.

At $7.95 it was obviously more than I would have paid at Arby’s but it isn’t outrageous for Los Angeles and it was vastly better than I have ever had from them.

Top Round Roast Beef Curly Fries

I would be slacking if I didn’t mention the curly fries that I ordered as my side. They were incredible. Which sounds a bit crazy because there wasn’t anything fancy going on.  They were just real potatoes spiraled out and lightly salted. What probably makes the difference is that they are fried in real beef fat. I ended up devouring most of the order before any of them came anywhere near ketchup. Crazy good!

We’ll certainly be back to Top Round Roast Beef. The challenge will be to save enough room so that we can try that frozen custard.

 

 

 

02/22/14

Philly cheeseteaks in Koreatown?

Today is a day where I am really feeling the distance part of a long distance relationship. We are working hard to close the gap.  Resumes have been going out and applications have been filled out in hopes that Chris can find a job down here and be in Los Angeles on a permanent basis. I know at heart that he will eventually be here but until then there are times when it is difficult to not be around  the person that I love.

Much of my life feels like a series of long distance relationships. Not just with people but also with places. When I lived in London, I would get a bit homesick for the States. Now that I am back in the States, there are times when I miss London and my British friends so much that it hurts. Then there is my relationship with the Philadelphia area.

To some extent, we are all products of where we grew up. My formative years took place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania which is not too far outside of Philadelphia. I haven’t lived in the area for nearly 18 years but yet there are times when I miss the culture of the area.  Philadelphia food is a big part of those homesick moments.

Which goes some way to explain why I was happy when  I noticed that a new cheesesteak place was opening in my part of Koreatown. For several weeks, there was a mystery as to what was going into the newly renovated space on the corner of Oxford and 6th.

We were driving by one afternoon when I saw a sign sitting in the door way that had the word ‘Whiz’ between a bun.Chris would have to confirm it but I may have actually squealed.

Whiz finally opened in Koreatown this week and I couldn’t resist checking it out.

From the outside,Whiz looks pretty good. Before they began their renovations,the space they are in was abandoned and a bit of an eyesore. I presume,they are responsible for repainting the storefronts of all the shops on that block to look uniform. It makes everything look so much better and helps to create the street corner joint they are trying to portray.

Whiz Koreatown

What I didn’t know before today was that is that the people behind Whiz in Koreatown are the same folks that run the nearby (and rather excellent) Beer Belly. I knew that there was a Philadelphian on the staff at Beer Belly. So, that does make sense but honestly, my brilliant power of deduction didn’t kick in until I noticed that it Jimmy Han taking my order.

Jimmy Han Whiz

Koreatown Whiz

I’m guessing other people already knew because the place was packed. It also shows that the areas has been aching for a place to get good fast food that is outside the Asian flavor profile.

Whiz is smart to be offering burgers as well as cheesesteaks on their menu. Carls Jr, a street away, is the only burger joint within blocks and is only ever a last resort if I have an unbeatable craving for a burger. The price point for the burgers at Whiz aren’t that far off the Six Dollar Burgers and they can’t possibly be worse tasting.

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Burgers will have to be another day though because on my first visit to Whiz it was all about the cheesesteak.  I placed my order for their signature Whiz Wit cheesesteak and fries.

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Perhaps if I didn’t know that Whiz had connections to Beer Belly I would be less critical of the fries. There was nothing particularly wrong with them but they were pretty much just fries. Beer Belly is the home of the famous duck fat fries which end up on just about everybody’s list of the best fries in Los Angeles.  So, just a normal fry feels like a bit of a disappointment.

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As I said though, it was all about the Whiz Wit. The Whiz Wit is a Philly cheesesteak with grilled onions and housemade Cheese Wiz.

The cheesesteak from Whiz in Koreatown passed the first test by being on an Amoroso Roll. Forget about the meat and all the other elements, it isn’t a true Philly cheesesteak unless it is on an Amoroso Roll. There really is a difference.

I admit to being an Amoroso snob. If a place outside of the Philly area, just calls a cheesesteak a cheesesteak then I will cut them some slack. However, the moment they go the whole way and call it a Philly cheesesteak than it has to be on an Amoroso Roll. Period.

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I’m happy to report that Whiz got their Philly cheesesteak just about right. The meat was chopped well and tasted good. The housemade Cheese Wiz was tasty. A compliment since I am normally part of the anti-whiz camp of Philadelphians.  Together, it all tasted pretty good.

However, there is room for improvement. What I have found from a lot of cheesesteaks I have had outside of Philly stands true for Whiz as well. The cheesesteaks are too dry. The Amorso Roll can stand up to meat juices and lots of gooey cheese. You should have to wipe your chin after taking your first bite and that just isn’t the case here.  Back home, I rarely put ketchup on my cheesesteaks but on several occasions, I found myself dipping my Whiz Wit.

It was still yummy and it is early days for Whiz. I’ll cross my fingers that they juice up the steaks a bit more and become the best Philly cheeseteak in Los Angeles.

There is a bunch of stuff other than traditional cheesesteaks on the Whiz Menu that look interesting. The Bacon American cheesesteak sounds intriguing. Hoagies that are actually called hoagies rather than a sub has my interest peaked too.

I think next on the list for me is going to have to be the Balls O’Bacon meatball sub. I overheard Jimmy telling somebody that was the sleeper item on the menu. So, I need to get my hipster on and tell everybody that I tried it before it was cool.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Whiz. We are glad to have you.

 

Whiz Menu

whiz cheesesteaks menu

whiz koreatown menu

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koreatown whiz menu

02/2/14

Drunken Sloppy Joe Nachos

Was there a game or something today? Ha.

The years that I was living in the UK, I became a bit disconnected from the Super Bowl hype. The game is on tv in the UK but it is on in the wee hours of the morning and we didn’t get the commercials. As we all know, they are the real reason for watching the game. I would still stay up and watch it, sometimes with a bewildered British friend, and the junk food portion of the tradition alive.

This year, I watched the game alone. Chris was down visiting me this weekend but he had to start his journey home before the game started.  I wanted to get some junk food time in but I didn’t want to cook a bunch of stuff just for me. Nachos came to mind but it was Super Bowl day and I didn’t want to do a normal nachos.

Somehow, my drunken sloppy Joes recipe came to mind.  Years ago, they came out of a drunken meatballs recipes that I used to make. On a particularly lazy day, I couldn’t be bothered to make meatballs and it became a sloppy joe recipe instead. It became a go-to recipe for whenever I had friends over to my London apartment.

I thought it would probably taste good on top of tortilla chips and smothered with cheese and so the Drunken Sloppy Joe Nachos were born today. Really, it is a non-recipe, other than the sloppy Joes nothing is cooked or has to be measured. You pile chip on a plate and put the toppings on.

For the chips, I went with the Homeboy Industries tortilla strips.  They are a charity that teaches former gang members culinary skills and gives them the hope of a productive and honest work life.  Their bread is really good and can be found at most Los Angeles area farmers markets.  My supermarket carries their tortilla chips and salsas. Not only do they taste good but I feel like I am giving a bit back to an organization that is working to make my city a better place.

Homeboy Tortilla

For the cheese, I just went for a jarred nacho cheese sauce. Meh, I just didn’t feel like going fancy. At the last moment, I threw some pickle slices on top. The acid actually worked against the salty aspect of the chips and cheese.

Drunken Sloppy Joes

drunken sloppy joes

Ingredients:

Tortilla chips
Drunken sloppy Joes (recipe bellow)
Nacho cheese sauce
Pickle slices (optional)

Directions:

Put the chips on a place. Spoon the drunken sloppy Joe mixture on top of the chips. Smother with cheese and throw on the pickle slices. Eat.

Drunken Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, very finely chopped (I used my mini chopper)
2 lbs extra lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups ketchup (I recommend using Heinz)
1 cup Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I’ve used brown deli mustard too)
Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large and deep pan.
Add the onions and fry gently until they have started to go tender. This takes about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Crumble in the ground beef and cook, stirring when needed, until all of the meat is browned. This took me about 8 minutes.Add the ketchup, Southern Comfort and brown sugar and stir until everything is combined with the meat.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
Stir in the Dijon mustard and then let simmer for another 15 minutes or until the sauce is the thickness you like with a sloppy joe.
01/29/14

Easy Beef And Mushroom Unstuffed Pasta

What is your favorite dish that your mother cooked you as a child?  Have you ever seen that recipe written down?

Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that aren’t really recipes at all. The dishes that moms and grandmas made time and time again with a bit of this and a bit of that.  Maybe church cookbooks were as close as communities came to written records of these sort of family recipes.

My own mother is a great home cook with a good arsenal of go to recipes. One of which was a dish she simply called ‘Stuff’. It was big pasta shells filled with a beef and mushroom mixture and cheese baked on top. It was always a hit with me.

At some point in my adult life, I became a bit lazy with the dish.  I experimented with making an unstuffed version of the recipe. All the same sort of ingredients but mixed together rather than stuffed. I also took away the baking portion of the recipe and did everything on the stove top. It tasted pretty much the same and ever since it has been the way I get close to Mom’s original dish.

It is one of those dishes that has a lot of wiggle room. Any kind of pasta can be used but I usually use  penne or small shells. Both carry the creamy sauce  well.  Here I have used beef but, more than once, I’ve used ground turkey with success. I go for the low fat soup but, of course, the full fat works too. At times, I’ve thrown in  some frozen peas and, when I am feeling particularly fancy, I add a splash of white wine at the same time as the soup mixture.

Leftovers of unstuffed version of my mom’s stuffed shells are also great for taking to work for lunch the next day. If you ask me, it actually gets better after a night of sitting in the fridge.

 Beef and Mushroom Unstuffed Pasta

beef and mushroom unstuffed pasta

Ingredients:

4 ounces penne pasta
2 ounces onion,diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
2 ounces mushrooms, diced
1 (10 3/4 ounces) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons Parmesan,grated

Directions:

Put pasta into a pot of boiling water and cook the length of time directed on the box.

Heat a frying pan and spray with cooking spray. You could use oil too but I’m trying to stay away from unnecessary fat. Instead, I use the spray and then add a bit of water right at the end of the browning process. Once the water has evaporated,the onions have a similar texture to being fried. In this case, add the onions and garlic and cook until browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the beef to the pan and brown that off too. Then, add the mushrooms and cook for a further few minutes.

Stir the soup, undiluted, into the beef mixture and stir until heated through. Then, combine the beef mixture with the pasta and then mix in the cheese.

You may with to add pepper to taste but between the soup and the cheese, there is probably enough salt for most people.

The recipes serves two but it really easy to size up. Just add more of everything..lol