Hoboken's Roast Beef Battle: Brooklyn and Manhattan Fight Back!
Last week, FiTR pitted a pair of excellent Italian-American roast beef heros found in Hoboken, New Jersey against each other. These classic sandwiches featured roast beef done rare to medium rare and thinly sliced, just-made mozzarella in abundance, and either a trickle or tidal wave of brown gravy, the kind the English introduced to the New World. In the piece, we hinted that the sandwich is also native to Brooklyn, and we recently ran out there and tried an old favorite. For the borough-challenged, we also retried one in Manhattan.
Of the half-dozen or so we've tasted in the last two years, the best was at John's Deli, a venerable working-class hero fabricator in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn - a former British colonial town - a stone's throw from both Bath Beach and Coney Island. (Newsday restaurant critic Sylvia Carter once told me that roast beef sandwiches were what Italians always ate on the way to or from the borough's beaches in the summer.)
The sandwich at John's Deli is similar to the ones found at Italian delis in Hoboken, though with a little less emphasis on the cheese. The gravy is darker and more canned-tasting, too, though that's not a detriment in a dreadnought like this. Overall, we'd say John's version of the roast-beef-and-mutz sandwich is nearly as good as the two Hoboken examples - better, if you happen to be from Brooklyn.
East Village sandwich shop This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef is an offshoot of the Artichoke Basille restaurant chain, which has its roots in Staten Island. Can we assume its version of the hero is the way residents of the city's southernmost island would make it? Well, maybe. The roast beef, sliced thin, is well-done, and the gravy is more like a steaming liquid. And the amount of cheese (which is great, and tastes just-made) is about half what you find on the Gravesend sandwich, and a third what is found in Hoboken. The bread, however, is the best the sandwich has ever been made on, a real chewy artisanal loaf.
So which of the four should you get? We suppose it depends on just how close you are to any of them.
Follow me on Twitter if you dare! -- @robertsietsema