Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beef on Weck, How I Love Thee!

A dream has finally come true for me. Six years ago, I saw a PBS documentary by Rick Sebak called Sandwiches That You Will Like. Six years ago, I discovered something called the "beef on weck". And I learned that one of the best places (or at least most representative) to get a true beef on weck sandwich was Schwabl's (I apologize that the entire site is Flash -- it wouldn't be my choice, but hey, I wasn't asked to design the site).

Now, I've had a "beef on weck" at BW-3's in Columbus, OH, before they became Buffalo Wild Wings and dropped all mention of the 3rd W from their name (which, incidentally, if you didn't know, meant "Weck"). But I say this to you now: That sandwich was pale, weak, and a pathetic comparison to the real thing. And all you Arby's and Raxx restaurant fans out there are holding nothing to a true beef on weck sandwich.

This was the ultimate end to the day long journey I took when I wrote about stopping at the Fracture Prune in an earlier post. That was simply the warm-up for the main event. Schwabl's is actually incredibly easy to find and is about a 3 1/2 hour trip from Akron, OH. I arrived around 2:30 PM and thought this was a great time to arrive since I would miss both the lunch rush and the dinner rush. Unfortunately, we are talking about a beloved Buffalo landmark. At 2:30 PM, the parking was packed to the brim and there was about a 20 minutes wait for a table. Even if I hadn't driven 3 1/2 hours to get here, it was still worth a 20 minute wait.

The outside of the building was rather unassuming, except for the neon sign above the front door.

Once inside the building, to the right is a full-service bar with about 5 or 6 places to stand (no stools, they would take up room that tables could occupy). To the left of the bar is the carving station. Every other spot is taken up by a table. I was quickly greeted by a pleasant young man who told me that I could stand at the bar while I wait for a table to open up.

The bartender soon came over and asked if I would like anything while I waited. Noticing a sign behind the bar, I decided to try one of their specialty drinks this time of year, a Tom and Jerry. Now, I've heard of this drink, but never had it. And boy, am I glad I did, because this version was silky smooth, delicious, and really warmed me up.

Essentially a Tom and Jerry starts with a egg-based frothy "batter" which is ladled into the cup. A jigger of a brandy and dark rum combination is added and then it is finally filled with very hot (not boiling) water. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top and you are ready to go. Wow, was that tasty. Kind of like a cross between an eggnog and a hot buttered rum.

As I finished up my Tom and Jerry, a table near the front of the store opened up and I was seated. I knew I was there for the beef on weck, but I was curious to see what else they had on the menu. Chicken, ham, fish ... you could pretty much get something from any meat food group. Sadly, I went on a Friday. On Saturday's they have homemade goulash with dumplings. While I probably couldn't have eaten both, an order certainly would've made it home with me to try later on. Ah well ... just a reason for another visit.

You can get the sandwich by itself, or make it a platter for only $2 more. With the platter, you get your choice of either cole slaw or pickled beets and your choice of potato. First off, let me say that everything is made in-house with the exception of the kummelweck rolls. Those are made by a local baker. Only recently have I found how much I am in love with roasted beets. But the thought of pickled beets of any kind just turned me off. So, I went with the cole slaw and the German potato salad for my sides.

I should also explain the kummelweck (weck is the shortened version of the name) rolls. "Kummel" stands for caraway. So these rolls are encrusted on their tops with caraway seeds and course salt. Sort of the same crunchy texture you find in soft pretzels. The reason why kummelweck has stayed a Buffalo only tradition and chicken wings have not is that it is pretty easy to replicate chicken wings with a fryer and a good sauce. Kummelweck rolls need to be made by an experienced baker and they don't hold real well for shipping purposes.

Schwabl's cooks their steamship rounds in the kitchen and then transfers them to the carving station where you can order any beef temperature you'd like, from rare to well done. I went for medium rare. Here is what I received:

To the left of the plate is the cole slaw, the German potato salad is in the back and to the left of the plate is a single slice of the homemade pickled beets (apparently being used as a garnish). Here's another shot of the sandwich with the bun off:

Mmmm! Nice and medium rare. Also notice, too, behind the plate is a jar of white-ish looking stuff. Every table has a jar of prepared horseradish to be used on your sandwich. And boy, did I use my fair share.

Let's start with the cole slaw. It was mostly green cabbage with a vinegar + sugar + salt dressing. No mayo or dairy to be found. It was simple and good, but a bit one note. The German potato salad was warm, had a nice acidic flavor and the bacon bits in the salad added a nice saltiness to the overall flavor.

Now, onto the sandwich. The beef was exceedingly tender. The roll was exquisitely fresh and tasty. The salt on top of the bun served really two purposes in my mind. First was the textural element it brought to the party. Biting down you had the chewiness of the bread, the crunch of the salt and caraway seed, and the meltingly tender beef. Flavor-wise, the salt served the same purposed as the salt on a soft pretzel. It was purposely over salty, but it played so well with the other flavors. And the horseradish that I added tableside was the perfect spicy foil for the beef. I can see why people from Buffalo claim that they can't find this "taste" anywhere else in the US.

So, after finishing most of my cole slaw, all of my potato salad, and all of my sandwich, all that was left was that single slice of pickled beet. Thinking to myself, I just drove 3 1/2 hours to eat a sandwich. I might as well try the darn beet. So I cut a slice of it fully expecting to hate it. And do you know what?




I couldn't believe how good it was. In less than half a heartbeat I would fully endorse the pickled beets over the cole slaw ANY day. I could've ordered a plate of just the beets and been wholly and utterly happy. They were sweet and tender and had just the perfect balance of flavors without any of that nasty "canned beets" flavor that I was so used to in childhood. In fact, some of the beet juice actually mixed together with the cole slaw and it actually improved the flavor. You go, pickled beets!

Finally, when my plate finally looked like this,

I asked for the check. With my drink and my platter, the total was roughly around $17.50 or so. I quickly paid my check, hopped backed onto I-90 going west and had many pleasant horseradish-related burps on my way home to remind me of this spectacular experience.

I must learn how to make these kummelweck rolls ... they were so superb!

Schwabl's on Urbanspoon


Nancy Heller said...

Tom - was the horseradish house-made also?

It all looks delish.

Tino said...

Nancy - I'm not sure. I will call the restaurant and find out. I do know that it was a really nice balance between hot and tangy.

Randi said...

Ok, I need to look at a map. I'm only 3hrs from Buffalo( in fact, we're going there for Vday weekend). I'm in awe that you drove 3.5hrs for this meal. Sometimes I drive 2hrs to shop at Nini Salvadggio in MI and I can't believe I"m doing that.

Tino said...

Randi --

I know, you've mentioned going to Buffalo before in your blog (and of course now for Valentine's Day).

Let me know of future visits and we could meet up for some culinary outings. Fortunately they have more than just roast beef at Schwabl's.

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