Saturday, December 15, 2012

Specialty of the House

 Philippe the Original opened in Los Angeles in 1908. One day in 1918, its proprietor, Philippe Matthieu, was making a sandwich for a customer and by mistake dropped the bread into a roasting pan full of meat juice. The customer said he'd take the sandwich anyway, and this, according to legend, was the birth of the French Dip Sandwich.

Others might dispute this tale, but today, Philippe's on the corner of Alameda Boulevard and Ord Street in Los Angeles' Chinatown is regularly packed with customers demanding French Dip sandwiches.

We wandered into Philippe's on a December Sunday without knowing that it was the same day as a Toys for Tots event sponsored by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer in Glendale. By news accounts, almost 1000 motorcycle enthusiasts came to downtown LA to give Christmas presents to homeless children.

After we pulled into the parking lot, we heard the thunderous roar of cycles on Alameda Boulevard, and then they turned onto Ord Street, pulling into the parking lot like a swarm of fabulous glittering insects with waving, antennae-like handlebars and fenders as colorful as the iridescent hard wings of beetles - they were all headed for Philippes.

Philippes service model is unique to the restaurant. There are some half a dozen servers stationed at a long glass deli-case with a carving station. You choose a carving station and stand in line. When it's busy, the lines stretch to the back wall of the room, between the long, communal dining tables lined up there.

Everybody goes to Philippes! You can see all kinds of people here - old and young, rich and poor, and every ethnicity in Los Angeles.  The room is colorful with neon signs and all kinds of kitschy framed emphemera, and in an old-fashioned touch, the floors are dusted with sawdust.

The menu lists a lot of items, but what most people come here for are the sandwiches. You can have roast pork, beef, ham, lamb or turkey on a french roll. Add cheese for a little extra. The roll is dipped in meat juice - or, if you want it extra gooey, ask for double-dipped.

Good accompaniments to the sandwich are the classic deli standbys cole slaw or potato salad, but at Philippes you can also get such retro treats as pickled beets, pickled hard-boiled eggs, and pickled pig's feet. And pickles.

I have never seen anyone order a pickled pig's foot. Which doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Lamb and blue cheese sandwich, with a bottle of mustard at the ready

We are creatures of habit. We always order the lamb sandwich with blue cheese.  When you place your order, the server carves slices off the roast of your choice.

We love the pickled beets, which are sweet-and-sour deliciousness. 

Here's a view of the good, hearty slices of lamb meat, and the nice, substantial slabs of blue cheese that go into the lamb sandwich. Every table has a plastic squeeze bottle of Philippe's hot, spicy mustard standing by for those who are brave enough to use it.

Philippe's wine selection is surprisingly good, and a glass of pinot noir goes well with the lamb and blue cheese sandwich. If you're not drinking alcohol, a cup of Philippe's coffee is priced at just forty-five cents.


The potato salad is the typical American mayonnaise style, but it has a bit of a sweet tanginess I like. Dining at Philippe's is casual - find a place at one of the long communal tables. If you wait just a bit, a nice man in a paper hat will clear used dishes and wipe the red formica clean for you. Grab a wooden stool and have a seat.  One of the back rooms features memorabilia of Los Angeles street cars, while on another wall model Amtrak trains are displayed. Across the room, you can see photos of historic circuses.

Patiently waiting in line
If you have room after eating your sandwich, you can end your meal with a slice of pie! Philippe's is open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm,

You can buy a bottle of Philippe's mustard at the candy counter near the Alameda Street door. We grabbed a jar for our son in London, and one for our own kitchen, before heading out past the Harleys in the parking lot.


smalltownme said...

When I was growing up, pickled pigs feet were a special treat. Ugh.

I've been to Philippe's and wish I'd tried a pickled egg along with my french dip.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

If you have room after eating your sandwich, you can end your meal with a slice of pie!

I love pie, but that's hard to imagine.

I hope someday to test it out.

Alexia said...

My gosh, I can't imagine even finishing a "sandwich" that size, let alone having a slice of pie.

I was interested to see that the lamb was more expensive than all of the other meats.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Lamb and blue cheese sandwich! Sign me up!