One Los Angeles' oldest, still-thriving restaurants, Philippe the Original (more often referred to simply as Philippe's) is widely credited as the birthplace of the French Dipped sandwich. Legend has it that the original owner Philippe Mathieu accidentally dropped the bread for a sandwich into a pan of juices and his customer (possibly a police officer with the last name French) was happy to eat the sandwich on the flavorful, soaked bread bread. Fast forward over 100 years since Mathieu opened Philippe's in 1908, and general manager and owner Richard Binder has new intel. Binder learned from Mathieu's grandchild that the dip was more of a "work in progress." Apparently, Mathieu was looking for a way to soften day-old French bread because customers found it too hard to chew. Binder also says its possible the first dipped sandwich was served to a fireman and not a policeman but ultimately the origins are "lost to history." Fellow long-time Los Angeles restaurant Coles also claims the distinction of inventing the French Dip, adding to the mystery.
While the origins might be a matter of debate, the 105 year-old restaurant's famous sandwiches are known to be among the best in LA. Of their dipped sandwiches (which can come as single-dips, double-dips, or wet), the most popular is the beef double-dip: a roast beef sandwich where both slices of bread have been dipped in jus made with pan juices from the roasting process. Eater LA calls the Beef Double-Dip one of the most iconic sandwiches in the city and editor Kat Odell says that Philippe's is a bona fide "sandwich destination." Says Binder, "Nobody does it like we do." Below, the elements of the Philippe's Beef Double-Dip:
1. The Bread
Philippe's uses a very light, crusty French bread roll freshly baked and delivered daily from the nearby Frisco Baking Company. Binder says Philippe's is one of Frisco's largest single customer, with daily shipments at 140 dozen rolls per day (they order even more on the weekends). The rolls are placed two dozen at a time into a warm oven about three to four minutes prior to serving. (Binder explains that there is a cook exclusively responsible for bread warming behind the counter at Philippe's.) As soon as the rolls are warmed, they go straight to the carvers, who slice them in half lengthwise and begin the sandwich assembly.
2. The Beef
Binder says that Philippe's roasts a staggering 1,000 pounds of corn-fed Midwestern beef per day. Philippe's purchases beef from the California-based, family-owned Rocker Bros. Meat & Provisions, who specialize in choice and prime cuts. Philippe's uses bottom round, a cut mostly used for roasting that Binder says fits the "specs" Philippe's has created over the years. The roasts come in at 22 pounds and are seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and "a ton" of freshly ground garlic. Three roasts (about 70 pounds worth) are added to a pan with mirepoix (celery, onions, carrots) and cooked in the oven at 425 - 450°. Binder explains that Philippe's will roast three to four times a day, beginning at 3 A.M. After cooking and trimming, the roasts weigh in at about 10-12 pounds each. Since carving by hand wouldn't create sufficiently thin slices, Philippe's uses a meat slicer for the beef. After slicing, the beef is ready to be used in a sandwich.
3. The Jus
The "dip" in the beef double-dip, the jus is made each day for use the following day. Binder explains that there are two 50 gallon steam kettles going 24 hours a day, seven days a week cooking a beef stock which serves as the base of the jus. The kettles contain some 40 lbs of beef bones, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, leek, and salt, which cooks for 24 hours. The key component is the pan juice itself, which begins with the pans Philippe's uses to roast the meats. Philippe's uses the same pans throughout the day during the roasting process, leaving the mirepoix and garlic extremely caramelized by the end of the day, Binder says. The pans are simply deglazed with a bit of water, and then the intensely flavored contents are added to the kettles. The mixture cooks for 24 hours, reducing by about 50%.
4. The Dipping
When it comes to dipping, customers can order their sandwiches as a single-dip, wet, or double-dip, which Binder says is by far the most popular order. Where a single-dip sandwich means only the top half of the sandwich bread is dipped in jus, a double-dip means that both the top and bottom halves of the bread are dipped. A wet sandwich means both halves are dipped, and remain in the jus longer than with a double dip. After so many years of serving, Philippe's has, of course, developed their own specific system for dipping. First, the carver dips the bottom piece of bread into the jus, which is kept at 180°. Because the bottom half is sturdy, the carver uses their fingers to "glide" the bread across the jus. Next the carver layers the beef onto the dipped bread, and adds cheese if it was ordered. Since the top half of the bread is thinner, the carver uses the tip of their knives to dip it into the jus (using their fingers would certainly result in burns, Binder says). The sandwich is served on 100% paper plates, which Binder says have a nostalgic feel. He adds that "all the customers realize that it's going to be messy" to eat a dipped sandwich.
As a final touch, many customers will add a bit of the Philippe's signature house-made French mustard, which Binder describes as "incredibly hot." The mustard is based on Mathieu's family recipe, and has remained unaltered over the years. While the ingredients are a closely held secret, Binder confirms that despite the fact that many suppose there's horseradish in the mustard, there's none. Other ingredients include white vinegar, paprika, salt, and mustard flour. "It will clear your nostrils," Binder says, "and a lot of people over do it the first time."