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.

 

 

 

06/6/14

Car chaos and great brisket in the Valley

Last weekend started out so well. After weeks of research, we headed out to The Valley to buy a car. Chris had been without a car after an accident a couple months back. So, this was much needed.

We had a car in mind and headed out to Northridge to check it out. It was perfect. We even saw the kid from Modern Family in the Wendy’s across the street.

We bought the car and that was when things started to get crazy. I don’t have my license yet (hang over of many years spent in Europe) and Chris had been renting a car to visit me.  Which left us with two cars to get back to the apartment but only one driver.

The rental car was from Hertz and we had been given the name of an office close to the dealership. We headed off to it with the idea of dropping of the rental and getting a cab back to the new car. When we got there it was closed.  In desperation, we found a safe side street to park the rental and found a friend that could help us move the cars around the next day.

Before we headed out the next morning, Chris called Hertz and was given a price (and charged) for a one way rental. They also gave us the address of where to drop the car. Simple, right?

Yeah,except that when we got to that address it was an empty parking lot with no sign of any buildings at all much less a Hertz office. We called Hertz again and they apologized and gave us another address. Amazingly, when we got to that location, it didn’t exist either. Made slightly more ridiculous by there being two other Hertz’s customers there also looking for the mystery location to drop off their rental car.

Once more we called them and the person on the other end told us that our only option was to take the car to Burbank Airport. Since we had been trying to return this car for three hours, we were happy to have a promising solution.

That was until we got to Hertz at Burbank Airport where they told us we would be charged a much higher rate for returning it to them. That was on top of the amount Chris had already been charged when he called that morning. Made worse by the woman behind the counter – Bonnie – who rolled her eyes at us when we were explaining what we had just been through at the hands of her company. Long story made somewhat shorter, Chris was able to call the next day and get some of that extra refunded but it was all handled so poorly that we won’t be renting from Hertz again any time soon.

There was one bright point to the day. Of course, it was food.  We planned to go  for lunch in Northridge before we started the car gymnastics.  I did my research and decided that we should give Brent’s Deli a try.

I loved that there was an actual deli counter right inside the door.  That gave me hope that Brent’s Deli just might be the right thing.

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The dining room was packed with people but they moved folks in and out quickly.

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We only waited ten minutes to be seated despite there being at least half a dozen parties in front of us.

The menus we were given,once we were seated, were something else. Honestly,I don’t think I have ever seen a menu with a table of contents before.

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From breakfast through to dessert, there were so many items on the Brent’s Deli menu that we had munched through the complimentary plate of pickles before we had decided what to order.

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I kept coming back to the dips section of the menu and finally settled on ordering the brisket dip.  Chris ordered the pastrami and turkey dip with sauteed onions. We split things so we both could try each sandwich.

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The sandwiches were massive. Yet. no sooner had I commented that I would never be able to finish it before my half of the brisket dip vanished down my throat.

The piles of tender thinly-sliced beef brisket were sandwiched between a flaky kaiser roll. The roll was just crusty enough to take a deep dip into the au jus without falling apart.  I especially liked that the au jus wasn’t overly salty. With most other dips, I can only manage a few dunks before the sodium begins to overwhelm. Not the case here.

Just the sight the brisket dip gave me hope that it would be good but what did surprise me was the quality of the coleslaw. It tasted just like the coleslaw my Nana makes. Which,of course,is the best coleslaw on the planet. Not too creamy, not too sweet and – very importantly for me – no raw onions.

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The pastrami part of the pastrami and turkey sandwich wasn’t bad either. The turkey,whilst good, wasn’t really needed on the sandwich. It acted as a barrier to the au jus and as a result the bottom part of the sandwich was moist and the top was dry. I ended up taking out most of the turkey so that I could have more of that moist pastrami goodness.

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As much as the car chaos drove us crazy,at least it lead to the discovery of Brent’s Deli. Now we know where to go for some great deli sandwiches when life brings us to the valley.

Oh and this is the new car in question. Almost as tasty as that brisket.

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03/22/14

I made a bacon & hummus fried bread sandwich. It kind of rocked.

I am not saying that this creation of mine is in anyway healthy. However,it would be true to say that it was inspired by healthy eating. On Monday, I am starting a healthy eating challenge that will last for ten weeks. In preparation, most of the meals I have had this week have been an exercise in getting rid of stuff that I won’t be able to eat during the challenge.

By the time that Friday came around, I was down to a few odds and ends. They didn’t necessarily go together but I didn’t want to buy any groceries before I did a meal plan for next week. Plus, I was crazy hungry and wanted something pretty much now.  Amongst the remaining items was a pack of thick cut bacon, a tub of Trader Joe’s Garlic Hummus Dip and two slices of a French bread loaf I bought at the farmer’s market last weekend.

bacon hummus fried bread sandwich ingredients

The bread was at that stage where it hasn’t gone bad but you pretty much have to toast it for it to be decent. On Thursday, I bought a brand new cast iron skillet. Seriously, I was so excited when it arrived but there hadn’t yet been an occasion to use it. Putting my foodie thinking cap on, I decided to see what would happen if you made a bacon and hummus fried bread sandwich. At the very least, I would get to take the skillet for a test drive.

I started by heating up the new cast iron skillet and getting it hot enough that the bacon would make that glorious sizzling sound as soon as it made contact.

frying bacon

I fried the bacon until it started to get nice and crispy. At that stage, I moved the bacon to the side of the pan and put the slices of bread into the pan.

fried bread and bacon

Fried bread is something that came to me during my years spent in the UK.  A common part of the famous British fry up, fried bread is essentially just bread put into the pan that has been frying the bacon and sausages. Rather than being toasted, the bread absorbs the fats and oils and crisps up.

With all the fat that had already come off of the bacon I was frying, it took no time at all for the bread to adopt a lovely golden crunch. Be careful not to let the bread be in the pan so long that it starts to burn. I only had to flip each slice of bread once before it was clearly done.

Once the bread was done, I slathered one slice with a layer of the hummus and then arranged the bacon on top.

bacon hummus sandwich

Finally, I put the second slice of fried bread on top and pressed it down to bring the bacon and hummus sandwich together.

The crispy crunching sound released by the bread as I pressed down was so beautiful to be nearly erotic. See for yourself in the video I put together of me making my bacon and hummus fried bread sandwich. Tell me that the crunch of that bread isn’t full out doughgasm material!

Sounds are one thing but it all comes down to how it tastes right? If I do say so myself, this was one mega yummy sandwich. The crunch of the crispy bacon and the lightly fried bread was a nice contrast to the soft hummus. Similarly, the garlicky hummus played off the salt of the bacon really well.

One thing is for sure, the bacon and hummus fried bread sandwich will be happening again. It just has to wait ten weeks until I am allowed to eat something so unashamedly unhealthy.

03/6/14

Super Snazzy Grilled Cheese

Sometimes, putting together a sandwich is all the energy I can muster after work. At least it is still sort of cooking, right?  If I am going to settle for a sandwich for dinner it is going to have to be a bit more than just slapping a few slices of wafer thing meat between bread. Despite my lactose intolerance, I often end up with some sort of grilled cheese on my plate.

This grilled cheese recipe is one I put together for a cooking event I participated in years back.  A list of ingredients was provided and the participants had to think of a way to put them together in a recipe.  At that time, I was in a Foreman Grill stage and saw everything as a hot sandwich potential. As a result, the ingredients screamed ‘grilled cheese’ to me.

Since it was for a recipe site, I broke the ingredients down to exact amounts but don’t be silly and think you need to follow them as more than just guidelines.

Super Snazzy Grilled Cheese

super snazzy grilled cheese

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mushroom, roughly chopped
2 slices uncured bacon, chopped into pieces
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Gouda cheese, shredded
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped in half
4 baby spinach leaves
2 slices bread

Directions:

Saute shallots, mushrooms and bacon in the olive oil until the bacon is cooked through but not crispy and the shallots are softened.

Put the shredded cheese in a small bowl and sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Toss until all of the cheese is coated by the cayenne pepper.

Put half of the cheese mixture on one of the slices of bread.

Top cheese with the shallot, mushroom and bacon mixture and spread out so that it fully covers the bread and cheese.
Arrange the tomatoes on the bread so that they form two parallel lines down the middle of the bread.

Put one spinach leaf on each corner.

Put the second half of the cheese mixture on top of the spinach and top with the second slice of bread.

Spray each side of the sandwich with butter flavored cooking spray and put onto a hot Foreman type grill and cook until the cheese is melted and the outside is golden (about 5 minutes) OR fry in a buttered pan as you would a traditional grill cheese sandwich.

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.

cheesesteak hoagie whiz koreantown

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.

fries whiz koreatown

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

menu koreatown whiz

koreatown whiz menu

12/5/13

The Melt makes me a fan before even tasting the food

I’ll hold up my hands and admit that I am a phone addict. Honestly, I sleep with my iPhone under my pillow. Public transport features heavily in my life in Los Angeles and I barely go anywhere without my headphones plugged into my phone so I can listen to music or a podcast.

Also, I use the phone a lot for my street photography hobby. All of which is great but also pretty heavy on the battery. So, even a fairly short journey from my place in Koreatown to the Archlight cinema on Sunset Boulevard will drain so much of my battery that it would be questionable if I would make it back home before it ran out of juice.

It was during a low battery moment that I went into The Melt on Sunset.  I had something from The Melt’s food truck before at an event held at Paramount studios and it was pretty good. The problem for me generally is that they specialize in grilled cheese and I’m lactose intolerant and my boyfriend hates cheese.

So, it wouldn’t be my normal go to place but that day it looked like a a good place to take a load off my feet and recharge. Recharge is the word too because it wasn’t the menu that made me a fan. Though, that is all very good. It was that each of the tables in The Melt’s Sunset Boulevard location had one of these nifty devices on them.

The Melt chargers

They are charging stations with both an electrical socket and two USB ports. Wow. It is amazing what a difference such things make to your experience.

Don’t get me wrong, the food at The Melt was incredibly good. I ordered their bacon Ruben melt which was really tasty. They even made me like pumpernickel bread. Which is something I would normally would have avoided.

Melt Bacon Ruben

However, it is the thought that went behind the charging stations that will make The Melt my go to spot when my phone juice is running low in Hollywood. Which, guarantees a purchase and loyalty from me. I hope that other restaurants take note. After all, just having sockets available for laptops has been a component to Starbucks success.