Philippe’s, that Downtown institution that may or may not have invented the French dip sandwich, mourned the loss of its patriarch William “Bill” Binder in late January.
Don’t be confused. The eatery is more than 100 years old, so Binder wasn’t the founder (the sandwiches are good, but don’t have miraculous regenerative properties as far as I know). I mean, his name isn’t even Philippe! Bill was, however, the owner that decided to move Philippe the Original from its first location on Aliso Street to its current home on Alameda when the Hollywood Freeway elbowed its way into the territory.
Although it’s sad news, I think I was more heartbroken when the Chili My Soul founder died, causing that restaurant to shut down abruptly. Despite Binder’s passing, Philippe’s lives on.
In honor of Binder’s contributions to Philippe’s I decided to finally write up the first time I got my hungry hungry hands on one of those sandwiches.
It was late October, and my belly and coworkers thought it was a capital idea to forgo our wilted packed salads and instead honor our colleague Rick for getting himself born more than three decades ago. Happy Birthday, Rick! Here’s a moist sandwich.
Other local folks without a birthday agenda still thought Philippe’s was a good idea judging from how packed it was. Luckily, I’ve gotten over most of my childhood claustrophobia stemming from getting locked in a toolshed with mannequins and other fun sibling hazing rituals.
The stunning simplicity of it all was very appealing to me. Jump in a line, order the food and watch the lady assemble it with nimble, magical sandwich-making fingers. It’s ‘Wich-craft, says Frank Sinatra.
In my singlemindedness to try the signature dip, I only glanced at the other offerings behind the glass. Baked apples? Eh … no thanks. Nice, old-school touch with the ice cream scoop for the macaroni “salad” though.
Ah, but the jar atop the counter was a different story. How could I resist the fuchsia glory of the pickled egg? I couldn”t. I didn’t.
Back at the office, anticipation activated my salivary glands as I eyed the juices and Easter egg colors seeping through the packaging.
I’ve been learning to eat mustard and am pretty picky about what I like. Philippe’s famous mustard, uh, cut the mustard with me. No gross vinegary sweetness or scary overwhelming yellow. It was more like a bracing Chinese mustard, wasabi-esque.
I’ve had thousand-year-old eggs — which turn verdigris and kind of gelatinous, stinking of sulphur — so eating this beet-dyed pickled egg was no big whoop. It was just okay. The inherent egg-y taste was missing, replaced by the pickling, and the albumen was denser, kind of rubbery.
So, not a taste sensation, but still bright and fun, like a drunken day at Chuck E. Cheese.
And the sandwich? I opted for the lamb because I’m a cruel, cruel person who craves tender, gamy meats, but only a single dip because soggy breads gross me out. Damn, but those meaty chunks were almost (but not quite) more than I could handle. I conquered that lamb though, and honored every juicy, roasted morsel of its sacrifice.
Philippe the Original
1001 N. Alameda St.
Los Angeles, CA