Few things food-wise are more comforting than a perfect roast beef sandwich: tender rosy meat, sliced wafer-thin and generously layered, soothing in its faintly warm mineral blandness, slicked with creamy aromatic horseradish that spikes into sharpness, tamed by a pillowy weck roll that absorbs the beefy juices. Would this delicate ecosystem of tastiness be thrown off balance by the addition of barbecue sauce or homemade cheese wiz? Perhaps, but it might be worth it, as would combinations of blue cheese, ‘provel’ (a processed mixture of cheddar, Swiss and provolone), caramelized onions, and roasted mushrooms. Each element adds additional notes of decadence, transforming a humble, workaday little sandwich into a tangy tabloid sensation.
To experience all that a roast beef sandwich can be, a visit to Top Round Roast Beef, a small, charmingly vintage ‘fast food’ in speed only spot, is essential. Created by a highly pedigreed team aiming to synthesize the best components of Midwestern (in particular, St. Louis), roast beef stands of yore, chefs Anthony Carron of the popular Westwood pizzeria, 800 Degrees, and Steven Fretz, formerly of the trendy XIV, have worked hard to provide not only the freshest, highest quality sandwiches, but also the proper St. Louis style accompaniments, such as ‘dirty’ fries (with gravy, provel, onions and house ‘round’ sauce) and ‘concretes,’ AKA frozen custard in myriad combinations. And on the subject of combinations, their freestyle coke machine affords diners 127 flavors to choose from. But you’re here for the roast beef, which can be enjoyed at its most deliciously vulgar in the shameless glory that is ‘the horse & hole’ (provel cheese, horseradish cream, roasted mushrooms, sesame bun) or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘plain’ with merely a shake of seasoning and au jus.
This more basic version we suspect was enjoyed by Steve Guttenberg’s character, Eddie, in Barry Levinson’s seminal 1982 film Diner, whose reason for being was an examination of male friendship, or more specifically, the way in which the hyper-competitive patter, distinguished by its ordinariness, emanating from bruised male egos contains unfathomable depths of loyalty and connection. Despite influencing dialogue ‘about nothing’ in pop culture for decades to come (Seinfield, Pulp Fiction, The Office), the studio behind the film, MGM/UA, wanted Levinson to cut what was to become one of its most famous scenes, where the character played by Paul Reiser, Modell, asks Eddie, ‘you gonna finish that?’ in reference to his roast beef sandwich, and an argument ensues. The scene stayed only because Levinson insisted that the ordinariness was the point, or, in his words, the whole concept of the film was to present these aggressive, deceptively banal exchanges “without gimmicks.”
Which brings us back to the roast beef sandwiches at Top Round. Should you, and say, three of your pals, prior to your evening Diner viewing, get the plain, resplendent in its ordinariness, its lack of gimmicks that force you to contemplate the subtleties of flavor beneath its humble façade, or should you order the ‘black & blue’ (black pepper, blue cheese, caramelized onions, sesame bun) with a side of dirty fries, and a concrete, and gild the lily until you can’t see it anymore? We’d like to think there’s room for both choices.
TOP ROUND ROAST BEEF
Quality fast food with a side of nostalgia.
Beef & Cheese, Horse & Hole, Black & Blue, Dirty Fries, “Concretes” (Frozen custard).
Space-age retro casual in a bright former donut shop with a breezy patio.
Quick and friendly.
Moderate, but ever-present hum of street noise.
1000 S La Brea Ave Los Angeles, CA 90019 (323) 549-9445 eattopround.com
Mon-Sun 11am-11pm. Credit cards accepted. Lot parking.
DINER (1982) Written and Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser.