Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another nostalgic lunch

As most of you could figure out by my blog about the Apple Pan, I dig on the historic restaurants in and around L.A. I like the kind of places that have a history, a devoted following, as well as the everyday customer. So, today it was a real treat to visit Philippe the Original in downtown L.A. We had a couple of reasons to be downtown today, so we picked up Rich for lunch and headed to this beloved landmark. Established in 1908, Philippe's is apparently the original French Dip Sandwich (so they claim).

Once you step inside, and head down a short flight of stairs to order, you feel like you're in a cool joint. It's quite a large place, with many rooms to sit in both upstairs and down. To order, you step up to the high countertop and are usually greeted by a middle aged woman with a bun in her hair (must be a prerequisite).
Never trust a server without a bun. Check out the purple egg jar!

Once you order, your food is prepared by the same person. All the fixings are right in front of her, and it is delightful to watch as she slices the french roll, dips it in the au jus, and places in your desired meat (they have roast beef - the traditional choice, as well as turkey, ham, pork, and lamb). Then you add your sides, potato salad, coleslaw, pickles and some pecular purple hard boiled eggs. You better get your dessert then too, or you'll have to come back later and stand again in the long line. Their pies look heavenly, but I've never had the guts to try to eat a slice after a Philippe sandwich. For drinks there are fresh lemonade and iced tea ($.65) or coffee (still a dime). The sandwiches are about $5-6 each. Gotta hand it to them on the value issue. They could easily charge $1.75 a drink and get it. And, here's one thing you must know: it is customary to tip your cashier/server. Yes, do the math and figure out how much these bun-wearing women make per hour...well over $50 in tips plus their regular wages.

Now, the sandwiches are good, but really quite plain. Just a crusty french roll dipped in au jus, and the meat. No tomato, lettuce, pickles, mayo, etc. They do have this wicked mustard on the tables that, if taken in large quantity, does simulate the wasabi nose throb. I tried asking for a side of au jus to dip in - nothing doing. (Now, I know that they could put some in a little cup if they wanted to, but they won't.) So what makes these plain sandwiches so popular? I think it's the atmosphere, the history. Sitting in a place like Philippe just makes you feel like you're in a cool place, like you're "in the know." Knowing that a place like that has been doing the same thing day in and day out for hundreds of people each day, for almost a hundred years, just gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. And isn't food really so much about the feeling it evokes. Visit Philippe soon! French Dip, Potato Salad, Pickles and Purple Eggs!

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