Established in the Buffalo area, beef on weck has become almost as popular as the chicken wing. Especially for travelers, it is a must-have if you ever visit WNY
By Anna Heerdt
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
If you're not from the Buffalo area, you might be wondering, what is a beef on weck, and where does it come from? Well, according to an article from "What's Cooking America," Joe Gohn, a man who lived in Buffalo, owned a small saloon in which he expanded so that guests could stay during the Pan American Exposition back in 1901. He wanted to offer his out of town guests a meal to enjoy with a cold beer. He decided a roast beef sandwich would suffice, and his baker, a native German, suggested adding salt and caraway seeds to the roll. This was known as a "Kummelweck" roll, weck for short, and thus, the beef on weck was born. Because the sandwich, which was a hit with guests, made the customers thirsty for more, Joe's beer sales far exceeded his expectations. Read the full story and get the recipe HERE
Today, served with horseradish and sometimes au jus sauce, the beef on weck is offered at many restaurants in and around Buffalo.
After doing some research, I travelled to three of the top visited restaurants in the Buffalo area for a beef on weck: Schwabl's, Charlie the Butcher and Bar Bill Tavern. The restaurants were rated as having the most top quality sandwiches by many websites. Though all three restaurants have excellent sandwiches, each experience was a little different.
CHARLIE THE BUTCHER
Charlie the Butcher is a family-owned business that has been around for more than 100 years. It was started by Charles Roesch, the great-grandfather of current owner, Charlie Roesch, as Charles E. Roesch and Company. He is the third generation to carry on the family business. He has turned the family's original butcher shop into what is now a restaurant and catering business. Charlie the Butcher's thrives as one of the most famous beef on weck establishments in Buffalo.
The original building is unusually laid out for a restaurant. The entrance consists of a long counter where customers place their orders. After ordering, customers are directed through a doorway to pay in the small, 1950s-style dining room. There are booths and tables to choose from and a counter with stools. An eat-in counter separates the kitchen from the dining room.
Choosing to eat my beef on weck at the counter, I thought it was kind of neat that the meat on my sandwich was from the very large piece of beef I was watching the chef carve in the kitchen right in front of me. I found the beef to be very fresh, as was the kummelweck roll. There was also a jar of horseradish, which, of course, I added to my sandwich. As the first of the three sandwiches I chose to review, this one was going to be hard to beat!
Schwabl's is a restaurant famous for its beef on weck. It was established in 1837, and has been serving people from Buffalo ever since. The beef is hand-carved and kept in a 100-year-old steam table that keeps the beef medium to medium rare. The rolls are provided by D & L Bakery in Depew.
Food Network's Alton Brown visited Buffalo in November 2017, and declared Schwabl's to have the best beef on weck, followed by the Bar Bill Tavern.
"(Beef on weck is) the thing we do most here. ... We're famous for it, actually," says Paul, a representative from Schwabl's.
Schwabl's has figured out that, to make the perfect sandwich, the roll must be light, with the beef carefully placed on the bread. The reason Schwabl's is famous for its beef on weck is because of the tradition behind it and also the quality of the sandwich. Very little, if anything, has changed about the restaurant's West Seneca location since it first opened to keep tradition alive, and that is a key to keeping Schwabl's in business. For example, the restaurant only plays jazz music, the wait staff wears dress clothes, and the register from 1905 still sits on the bar, which is also an original piece of Schwabl's. Customers enjoy the feeling of being "stuck in time," as Cheryl Staychock, owner of Schwabl's, says in the video.
I ordered takeout from Schwabl's, and the beef was still warm when I got it home. The roll and the beef were both very fresh and, when it, too, came with a side of horseradish, I figured out that a beef on weck isn't complete without the topping.
When ordering the sandwich, you are asked how you'd like the beef cooked. I asked for mine to be done medium rare, and a friend of mine requested medium. The roast beef on both sandwiches was cooked as we specified and we were both beyond pleased. Schwabl's really does a great job with its beef, and each sandwich is made perfectly to order. It was something I really enjoyed and would eat again.
BAR BILL TAVERN
Established over 150 years ago by Barb and Bill Korzelius, the Bar Bill Tavern started off small, with beef on weck as the only food item on the menu, with just a short list of drinks. However, when Joe Giafaglione bought out the Bar Bill in 1977, he planned to transform the place. Giafaglione opened the kitchen at Bar Bill in 1983, and began serving wings along with the beef. The reputation of the bar was then changed and it's now famous for its beef on weck and chicken wings.
Giafaglione also established a club for the regulars called "The Mug Club." How "The Mug Club" works is a customer pays a certain price for a mug with their name on it, and this is the mug their drink comes in every time they visit. "The Mug Club" at Bar Bill began with just 20 mugs. Today, the club consists of more than 4,000 mugs, with the number increasing daily. After Giafaglione retired, his niece, Katie, and her husband, Clark Crook, took over the restaurant. Since 2011, the Crooks have been carrying on the tradition of "The Mug Club" and all of the classic dishes Bar Bill has to offer.
"That's a secret to making a good sandwich ... trimming and making sure you've taken all of the tough pieces out of the beef, and also cutting against the grain is very important," Crook tells WIVB, a local news organization, when interviewed about the beef on weck sandwich. The Bar Bill was named "Buffalo's Best Beef on Weck" in 2017 by WIVB when it conducted a survey asking the citizens of Buffalo which establishment served the best beef on weck. More than 1,400 people voted for Bar Bill, proving how popular the restaurant is for beef on weck. Also winning "Buffalo's Best Chicken Wing" in 2017, the Bar Bill Tavern has become famous for having the full Buffalo package.
When Ordering from Bar Bill, I had the option of a mini, small, or regular-sized beef on weck. Then there was the choice of rolls, including, of course, the kummelweck. I went with the regular on weck. Arriving to pick up my order, I was told there was a separate location for takeout a few doors down from the main restaurant. Upon finding the take-out location, my food was waiting, served with a pickle, au jus, and horseradish on the side. The sandwich was just as fresh as the other two restaurants, and I would definitely eat there again.
Out of all three restaurants I visited, the Bar Bill is definitely the most modern. Despite being around for decades, the restaurant has kept up with the times, including accepting online orders through the Bar Bill mobile app. I think this is important for a restaurant, as it helps ensure repeat customers and encourages the patronage of today's "tech-savvy" generation, as well as those to come.
The beef on weck is on the rise as one of the most popular dishes in Buffalo. Tourists are not only coming to try the chicken wing, but also this unique sandwich. Next time you find yourself ordering a beef on weck, be sure to order from one of these three restaurants for the best experience.
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