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.