Almost as much as he loves discovering and devouring worthy sandwiches, the Underground Gourmet also loves to brush up on his sandwich lore and then regale Ms. UG with his fascinating findings — which is precisely what he did after a recent excursion to Park Slope’s Flatbush Farm, where he tucked into a delicious French-dip sandwich.
As you may or may not know (Ms. UG did not), the illustrious French dip, like so much of America’s storied sandwicherie, has a slightly murky history. Two restaurants, both founded in 1908 and both located in downtown Los Angeles, lay claim to it. The owners of Philippe the Original say that the French dip was born when founder Philippe Mathieu, while making a sandwich for a policeman one day in 1918, accidentally dropped a long French-style roll into some meaty pan juices. The copper — whose name may or may not have been Officer French — liked it so much he came back the next day for an encore performance. Had Philippe possessed better reflexes or the cop fussier standards, the world might be, to this day, bereft of French dips.
Philippe the Original’s chief rival for the French-dip throne is Cole’s P.E. Buffet, a decrepit old gin mill located in a down-and-out L.A. neighborhood. Cole’s owners claim that they invented the juicy sandwich when an old, dentally challenged regular requested that his French sandwich roll be dipped in pan juices to make it easier for him to eat. Cole’s claims this happened ten years before Philippe dipped its first bun, but in lieu of any hard evidence — a photograph, say, of a toothless geezer gumming a French dip while holding a paper dated 1908 — we’ll have to take their word for it.
Our visit to Brooklyn’s Flatbush Farm revealed no toothless barflies or off-duty gumshoes, but we did come across one of this sandwich’s more successful — albeit interpretive — renditions: a grilled baguette from Amy’s Bread, split and stuffed with succulent slices of red-wine braised boutique beef from Wolfe’s Neck Farm, melted Gruyère, and horseradish cream, and served with a cup of flavorful jus (plus fries and a small salad). Admittedly, this classy, politically correct version is worlds removed from its slipshod SoCal origins, but the proletariat sodden-bread spirit (if not the $14 price tag) is the same. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld