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Roast Beast, continued, if you can believe it.

December 8, 2010

First. Does anyone else’s mother call it Roast Beast? It’s apparently a Seussian reference, though he may have gotten from my mom, too.

Yesterday I really wished I could make a sidebar, because apparently writing 1500 words about a good sandwich is not enough for me. I want you to know about my personal history of great roast beef sandwiches.

You must know.

But don’t worry, I am narrowing it to three snapshots. What’s amazing to me — and this is not limited to roast beef— is that when there is something delicious involved, I can remember all of the other details in a snapshot of time. Maybe it’s when something strong and sensory is involved (and the sense doesn’t have to be taste; I have strong visual memories, too), then something is imprinted better than it would when it isn’t.

Enough philosophizing. Onward with the sandwiches.

1. It’s a Friday night in the 1980s. My friend Heather and I are, surprise surprise, watching MTV. Shortly my dad will arrive home with his brand new car. Meanwhile Heather and I are in the den, eating sandwiches. The meat is  from Bliss Market in our town, where they tie, season, and roast the cut themselves, so depending on where you are in the roast, it’s more or less well done. This is the only place we would even consider buying roast beef.

If there is a gap between processed deli meat and elegant real food that just happens to be cold, and wow, is there, this is solidly on the real food side. We’re eating the roast beef on soft Portuguese rolls that leave a slight flour mustache when you bite into them, and the sandwiches have with crunchy iceberg for an excellent textural contrast, mayo, and salt. Maybe pepper. To me, this represents a seminal moment in the history of eating. I am not sure that it gets better than this.

Condemn me for liking iceberg on a sandwich if you must, but I am just not sure that it does.

2. A few years later, Heather and I shared a job as lifeguards at a swimming pool at a small condo. In a different state, you would definitely not need a lifeguard at a pool like this; a saucer might have been considered a better accessory than a lifeguard when it came to this vessel containing water.

But my sister had the job, which she then bequeathed to me, and then Heather and I did it together. Somehow, we were all fantastically well paid, and had almost nothing to do except for visit with the few tenants who used the pool and whichever of our friends stopped by for a swim.

On one of Heather’s days off, she brought by a roast beef sandwich for me. I cheerfully started to eat it. It tasted good, but different. Hmm. It had cheddar on it, but and she made sandwiches on hard rolls, rather than Portuguese. (It feels strange to write and admit that we had a teenage friendship where we cared so much about roast beef sandwiches, but that’s not all we cared about. We also cared about chicken sandwiches. And steak sandwiches. But back to our story.)

I asked what was different. Rather than answering, she asked if I liked it. I said that I did, which was when she announced that it had mustard on it. Mustard! Mustard which was a condiment I’d refused to eat before. To get me to try it, she’d hidden it on a roast beef sandwich. It’s the sort of trick you’d be furious with a parent for, but it was somehow amusing when she did it. And, hey! I like mustard! Now, I was a mustard liker.

(Currently, I like mustard on almost anything, and I credit her. However, I prefer mayo—or mayo with horseradish—on my roast beef sandwiches.)

3. It’s probably another Friday night, maybe of 1988. I’m in the car with my sister and my first boyfriend ever, Jamie. The three of us are going to the Big E, which is what we call the Eastern States Exposition fair in Massachusetts. I don’t remember us being at the fair even at all, but I definitely remember the sandwiches we ate in the car.

Jamie had a perfectly appointed house with lots of brothers milling around. It was frequently full of good food, because their dad owned a few grocery stores scattered around Connecticut. Not chain ones, but independent markets where they had a great deli and very good things to eat. When we came by to pick him up, his mom told us to take some sandwiches to take along. They were on really soft white bread, with juicy roast beef that was made in their store, and salt. I can remember how it tastes, and how the bread looked and felt, and the meat’s juice running into the bread.

Jamie runs the business himself these days. I see him sometimes and we talk about politics, and our kids, and of course high school, but we I also always circle back around to the roast beef.

Yes, they still sell it.

And that concludes today’s roast beef segment. And hopefully, it is all of the roast beef writing I will do for the week.

Oh! Except Yorkshire pudding season is bearing down on us, so, you never know. Well, I won’t write about classic roast beef sandwiches again, at least, probably.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. kim (naldi) roberts permalink
    December 8, 2010 5:44 pm

    My brother Steve remembers being a lifeguard with Beth.

  2. Alana permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:26 pm

    Bliss Market! You’re taking me back to my visits with my Aunt Roxanne, who lived basically around the corner. Wasn’t there also a pizza place right there? I wouldn’t normally reach for a roast beef sandwich, but I do remember that combo – mayo, iceberg (I also love the cold crunch contrast) and Portuguese roll. Nothing like a doughy Portuguese roll.

    I’m still thinking about that simple Eataly sandwich.

  3. Karen permalink
    December 10, 2010 1:13 pm

    My dad called it roast beast (due to Seussian ref) but we never had it- growing up in Japan, beef was too expensive. And kudos for being seasonally appropriate: it was the Grinch who stole the roast beast from Whoville:

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