The Roast Beef Sandwich Wars
So Much Ado Over Toppings
Few non-political or sports related subjects will start a fight on the north shore of Massachusetts quicker than the classic roast beef sandwich sandwich. Everyone has an opinion on where the “best” one can be found whether it be a geographic area or a particular shop. There is also no shortage of opinions on how the sandwich should be constructed and what topping should be used. In a world full of “experts,” the roast beef fanatics stand apart for both their stubbornness and inability to see the beef for the sauce.
The north shore of Massachusetts is home to more of these crackerjack beef savants per capita than any other place on the planet. Give them a moment and a platform and you will soon be inundated with advice extolling the virtues of their favorite spot and explaining in detail while there is only one true way to prepare a beef.
Well. It’s all witless absurdity perpetuated by dunderheads who usually think that their local and favored sandwich shop does it better than anyone else. Opposition to their bias can provoke extreme indignation. It can be amusing. The reality is that are many wonderful places in Salem and elsewhere, that make good roast beef sandwiches each and every day. They make them in a variety of ways with a variety of toppings and there is no one way that is better than another. It is all a matter of preference. Your preference
BBQ Sauce, Mayo, mustard, horse radish, cheese, onion, pickle, lettuce, and tomato are some of the more common toppings. They are all fine alone or in any combination that you enjoy. Why is that? Because it is your sandwich and you can and should have it any way that you want it.
The classic 3-Way seems to be the one that the roast beef pedagogues insist is the one true way. For some it is an extreme and narrow minded religion. Cheese, a little mayo, and BBQ sauce are the 3-Way toppings. Many, if not most of these dogmatics insist on lathering so much sauce on their sandwich that the taste of the beef is overwhelmed and drowning becomes a possibility, You may as well order a sauce sandwich and a mop.
For me there is no one true roast beef sandwich. My most common order is cheese, onion pickle, mayo, and horseradish. If only horseradish mayo is available then I’ll settle for it.There are times when mustard calls to me. Lettuce and tomato is an occasional and refreshing change of pace. A little ranch dressing can be a revelation. I am not above a 3-Way, it’s a great sandwich. But the sauce must be applied to compliment and not dominate the beef.
The longest standing roast beef spot in Salem is Bill & Bob’s. While clubbing on The Ginza in Tokyo in 1980 I met a young Japanese student who had spent some time in the Boston area. When I told him that I was from Salem he pulled a business card from Bill & Bobs out of his wallet. Do you remember Big Fred’s from back in the day? Now it’s Sammy’s Roast Beef. Dina’s is farther up on Canal Street and puts out a solid beef, as does Pizza World on Jefferson Avenue. Loring Avenue has Rizzo’s Roast Beef. The new PZA on Lafayette also has a beef. Many consider Kings Roast Beef on North Street as the alpha beef in town.
Two non-standard last beef sandwiches stand out to me also. One is here in Salem, and the other is out in Byfield.
Village Tavern features a North Shore Roast Beef made with shaved prime rib. The taste and texture are different in a good way. They choose not to limit their sandwich creativity and neither should you. Get a cup of the chili while your are there.
In Byfield, just off of Rte 128 The Rusty Can has a roast beef that is made with smoked beef, using the same cut that all of the shops use and they have their own BBQ sauce. This sandwich is a roast beef revelation and is worth the drive all by itself.
Enjoy your food folks, your way, and let the nabobs natter if it helps them to feel better. The more that they beef about the way that you and I beef will make our sandwiches taste all that much better.
It’s been good beefing with you.