I had big plans for lunch today. My friend Andy and I were meeting at a suburban Chinese restaurant with a menu that looks like it’s out of the 1970s. They even have foil-wrapped chicken, which is a favorite of mine and extremely difficult to find in this region. I had worked out our entire order in advance. Then we arrived and noticed on our way in that they have a sign on their window indicating that they are only serving takeout. Part of the planned order would have been a PuPu Platter with a flaming mini-hibachi. That clearly wasn’t happening with takeout. We decided to scrap the idea altogether and return to Chinese at a later date.
We needed to make a quick decision on where to have lunch. Andy initially suggested I follow him to McNally’s Tavern in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. They are known for a sandwich called the Schmitter. I’ve been to McNally’s, but not since the 90s. While I wasn’t interested in a Schmitter, as I don’t like all of its ingredients, I remembered liking their hot roast beef sandwiches back in the day and was happy to go along with the idea. But when I mentioned hot roast beef, Andy changed course and led me to Ye Olde Ale House in Lafayette Hill, which is a western suburb of Philly and just a few minutes from where we were. They are known for hot roast beef and he thought I’d like their sandwich more than the one at McNally’s.
It’s a fairly standard-looking tavern with lots of wood paneling and sports on TV. But according to my friend, their hot roast beef sandwich is a cut above the ordinary.
Not long after we arrived and sat down, a large roast beef was brought out from the kitchen and placed on a table behind the bar, where it was carved for sandwiches.
But they had a fairly considerable array of offerings on their menu beyond hot sandwiches, including cheese and crackers with pepperoni, which sounds like something I would have been served at one of the old Iowa steakhouses I ate at in 2018. I was happy to see a selection of seafood appetizers and platters and ordered a dozen steamed clams for a pre-roast beef warm-up.
I have to confess to being somewhat shocked at how the steamed clams were served. They appear to steam the clams inside of a plastic bag and then just put the bag on a plate with sides of melted butter and natural clam juice. My first thought was that they were probably microwaved. I didn’t ask, and to my surprise once again, they were good enough for me to not care. The clams were not as small as little-necks often are and were perfectly tender, with a nice, fairly mild flavor, which the melted butter added to. I think I’d still have preferred that they remove the clams from the bag and serve them to me more traditionally.
Andy went with a pretty classic-looking house salad.
When I ordered my roast beef on a Kaiser roll, Andy recommended that I ask for “tips,” which means having the carver include slices from the outer layer of the meat, so that I would get the heavily-seasoned crust that develops while it goes through the roasting process. It’s somewhat analogous to brisket burnt ends in barbecue.
Andy knows what he’s talking about because this was unquestionably among the best hot roast beef sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, and having the meat carved from that outer layer made a difference, both texturally and in terms of flavor. It was probably saltier than it would have been if carved regularly, but I didn’t think the salt was over-the-top and liked all that extra seasoning a lot. The gravy on top was also very good and added an extra layer of moisture.
As much as I enjoyed my meal at Ye Olde Ale House, especially that roast beef sandwich, I’ve got a fairly strong craving for Chinese food now that I’ll have to satisfy before too long.