Road Report: The Rob at The Independent in Tampa, Florida


This entry represents the convergence, in a way, of several separate narratives.

First of all, there’s a sandwich called The Rob at The Independent, my favorite neighborhood watering hole in Tampa. The sandwich is named after a former bartender who still haunts the place’s patio from time to time. I’ve eaten The Rob on several occasions and noted how the salt on the bun complemented the roast beef, and how the bun (most importantly) didn’t become a dry or flavorless obstacle in the way of the sandwich filling. That’s my main criterion for the success or failure of bread and bun.

Secondly, for reasons not worth delving into, I haven’t eaten many sandwiches this year. But recently I got curious about the origins of The Rob after uncovering the startling truth about Buffalo Wild Wings from Wikipedia. Originally called Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck, and later branded with the shorthand “bw-3,” the chain adopted its current moniker in 1998. With that, the last vestige of the third W in the original name was gone. (Note: I feel like one of the last people  in the U.S.A. who still refers to Buffalo Wild Wings as “bw-3.”) As regular readers of this blog already know, “weck” is kummelweck, a salted, herby sandwich bread rarely seen outside Western New York.

Finally, I also learned from this research that The Rob, with which I’d had a long relationship, is a classic example of a beef on weck. The carraway seeds are an interesting novelty, and the thin-sliced roast beef and touch of horseradish make for a great sandwich that I recommend heartily. As a bonus, it goes well with virtually every beer I’ve tried at the Indy. On my latest visit, I paired it with a 24 oz. Steigl Radler grapefruit.

I haven’t seen the human Rob around The Independent in months. I hear he’s there early in the evenings and during the day on weekends (times that I’m rarely there). I decided to forge on sans origin story, and the history of The Rob sandwich remains a topic for another day.

Beef on Weck is the Best Sandwich You’ve Probably Never Had

The beef on weck at Carving Room, Washington, D.C.

The beef on weck at Carving Room, Washington, D.C.

For those of us who take our sandwiches seriously, the hard-to-find PBS special “Sandwiches That You Will Like,” which aired in 2002, is well worth the considerable effort required to view it. The documentary comprises a series of narrated vignettes, each telling the story of a unique regional American sandwich. Among the stars of the show is the beef on weck, a twist on the classic roast beef that is native to upstate New York but, regrettably, mostly an afterthought elsewhere in the country.

Beef on weck is distinctive for the herby, salty kimmelweck rolls on which it is served. A variation of the kaiser roll, the kimmelweck is topped with equal parts coarse salt and caraway seeds. In much the same way that olive salad elevates an otherwise straightforward Italian meats sandwich in the muffuletta, the kimmelweck roll is a small twist that makes for a transformative upgrade on the standard roast beef. The best examples are composed of thin-sliced, slow-roasted rare roast beef and a healthy dollop of raw horseradish and served with a side of jus and a cold beer. (Rochester’s own Genesee Light is a good option if you’re going full native.)

It is a fantastic sandwich. Unfortunately, unless you’re from Buffalo or have spent considerable time there, odds are you’ve never had the pleasure. Despite food-forward Washington, D.C.’s ever-expanding sandwich community, and numerous well-regarded roast beef specialty shops, options here are scant. Carving Room, near Mount Vernon Triangle, serves a stellar rendition with provolone and pickled red onions. “Upscale American tavern” District Commons has a beef on weck on Tuesday nights only in Foggy Bottom. Otherwise, here’s how to turn your boring plain kaisers into kimmelwecks.

While I appreciate the charm of provincial specialties, the beef on weck deserves a far more widespread popularity. In D.C., my latest cause for weck-citement is the forthcoming Beef ‘n Bread, a Boston-inspired roast beef shop planned to open in a few weeks around the corner from my office in Chinatown. No menu has been released, and hoping for a Boston-style restaurant to serve a Buffalo-born sandwich is admittedly foolish. But for now, as long as the sandwich-loving public of this and so many other towns is denied access to the brilliant beef on weck, it’s all I’ve got.

Go Watch “Chef,” the Best Sandwich Movie Ever Made

Jon Favreau in Chef

Thanks mostly to the increasingly limited nightlife agenda of my increasingly pregnant wife, I’ve seen more movies in the past year than in any year I can remember. These date nights and the numerous boxes of Good & Plenty I consumed along the way have been two of the more welcomed perks of our imminent parenthood. Furthermore, it had the follow-on effect of heightening my interest in last month’s Oscars, which, though mildly entertaining, was completely lacking in any recognition of outstanding sandwiches in film.

Plenty of movies have memorable one-off scenes involving sandwiches — Bon Appétit has the quintessential listicle — but far too few feature the sandwich as a central narrative device. Among the films I saw last year, there were a couple great ones and more than a few good ones, but “Chef,” written by and starring Jon Favreau as a hotshot Los Angeles chef, was the only one to fit this bill. For this it deserves your immediate attention, and LUCKY YOU it happens to be streaming on Netflix as I type.

On its surface, “Chef” is a classic road movie that tells the heartwarming story of a late-blooming friendship between father and son. It’s also about food trucks and social media and creativity and rediscovery. There’s an absurd cameo from Robert Downey Jr., a bitchin’ soundtrack, a splendid supporting cast including Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, and Sofia Vergara, and food porn aplenty.

The real stars, though, are the sandwiches… Continue reading

Gulf Coasting: Pulled Pork at Snootie’s

Snootie's BBQ

“If you have a picky eater, they haven’t tried our pork yet.”

The folks behind Snootie’s BBQ are living the dream. From a brief conversation with the man who served me a delicious pulled pork sandwich, I gathered the following about their annual calendar: Halloween is their food truck’s final day of business in Sandusky, Ohio. Following that, the crew pulls up stakes and heads south to Tampa, where they set up shop through April at Bearss Groves near Lake Magdalene. I’ve had made many fruit and vegetable purchases at the Groves, a fairly extensive covered farmer’s market. I’ve also eaten many barbecue sandwiches at Snootie’s, and I further knew that they were native Ohioans, like me, from the hip, industrialized, Lake Erie side of the state. But I’d never really heard their “story,” so to speak, preferring for the last few years to grumble to myself how much I’d like to be living in Ohio during those months when Florida becomes a tropical inferno where the air itself exudes sweat, and to be here in Tampa when Ohio enters its annual ice age. Continue reading

Postcard from LA: Little Jewel of New Orleans

Shrimp Po'Boy

The Crescent City Fried Shrimp Po-Boy at Little Jewel of New Orleans, Los Angeles.

A few Saturdays ago I visited the Little Jewel of New Orleans, a relatively new Southern-inspired deli oddly situated in an off-the-beaten-path pocket of downtown Los Angeles’ Chinatown district. After sitting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest (and sadly underwhelming) two-plus-hour film “Inherent Vice,” I made the right move trying out this gem, pun intended.

Walking in, we were immediately greeted by the gracious proprietor, who welcomed us to his spot and directed us towards the register to order our picks of Southern goodness. Though the menu is vast, with nearly twenty Po’Boy varieties along with other types of sandwiches, platters, and fried bites, I landed on a Muffuletta and the Crescent City Fried Shrimp Po-Boy. Continue reading