Wednesday, April 15, 2015

French Dip Review: The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, Jackson, MS (Roast Beef Panini)

Jackson, Mississippi isn't known as a culinary mecca unless all you are looking for is fried seafood, fried chicken, and homestyle Southern food in general. There's nothing wrong with Southern food at all - it's DELICIOUS! But I travel a lot, and being one from the South myself (NC), it's not usually the first thing I seek out when looking for a good spot for lunch or dinner.

So why not see if Jackson has a good French Dip somewhere? I searched on Yelp, UrbanSpoon, Google, and more, and came up empty handed. I felt my search for a French Dip in this city was all for naught.

There are a few restaurants making a change from the regular Southern fried fare in Jackson, though. New entrepreneurs and chefs are opening some adventurous (for Jackson) restaurants, and are hitting the nail on the head. I must first give compliments to the restaurant Parlor Market, which gave me one of the best meals I've ever had (literally, ever), though not a French Dip. This is a restaurant that could easily fit in the Meat Packing District in NYC and be packed every night. But even after the great meal I had there, I was convinced there had to be a joint somewhere offering a good French Dip.

"I felt my search for a French Dip in this city was all for naught."

I'd been searching for dinner spots, and continued to come up with nothing. So while in town, I needed a spot to grab lunch before a meeting. Low and behold, there was a joint with a French Dip - but only for lunch, which is why it hadn't turned up on my radar in my previous searches.

The Manship Woodfired Kitchen has nothing to do with being a man - Manship Road is just the name of the road on which it's located. It's somewhat of a manly place nonetheless, with over 300 bourbons on the shelf, including the whole line of goods from the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery ($20-$80/shot). But this was lunch and I was about to meet with a client afterwards, so I did not partake in a slowly sipped glass of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon (mmmmmm....).

"I was there for one thing, after all. The French Dip."

I was there for one thing, after all. The French Dip. On the lunch menu only, they managed to discreetly place a French Dip titled the "Roast Beef Panini." You have to read further into the description to realize that it's a variation on a French Dip and includes au jus for dipping. And at only $12, a no-brainer for me.

The sandwich comes with red onions, gruyere, horseradish cream, and herb au jus. I'm not one for raw onions, so I forewent that option. But the resulting sandwich was a wonderful take, if not so traditional, on the French Dip. Between the two pieces of pressed, toasted sourdough bread was a healthy portion of medium to medium-rare cooked, tender and flavorful roast beef, cheese, and creamed horseradish with a slight kick. 

The French Dip with Parmesan Reggiano  Fries.
The au jus was incredibly flavorful - salty, beefy, but with a much deeper herby flavor than you typically get with a jus. 

Meaty, Gruyere-y goodness!
The au jus on the side was minimal. I had to ask for more. If the ramekin was full to begin with, it would have been plentiful. But it was incredibly flavorful - salty, beefy, but with a much deeper herby flavor than you typically get with a jus. The most prominent was the flavor of rosemary, which I've long thought was the best herb to add in au jus when I make a French Dip at home.

Tasty (though not plentiful enough) au jus!
The crispy, toasted bread was, though not traditional, a nice departure from the norm and certainly didn't hurt the sandwich at all. It may not mean it's a French Dip in the traditional sense, but hey, it's a sandwich with roast beef and au jus. It's a French Dip to me.

The sandwich came with parmesan reggiano herb french fries, which I swear were some of the best tasting fries I've ever had. I was picking out the crumbs of herbs and parmesan from the bottom of the bowl after finishing them.

I highly recommend checking out The Manship Woodfired Kitchen if you are ever in Jackson. Lunch time is unfortunately the only time that you can get the Roast Beef Panini with au jus, but the menu (and bourbon selection) are strong, even if you feel like a dinner (though it would have to be sans French Dip).

The Bread: 4
The Roast Beef: 4
The Au Jus: 5 (just make sure to ask for more)
The price: 5
Overall: 4 of 5

3 of 5 DeliciScore™ (Good) Awarded to Safe House for their French Dip Sandwich in Milwaukee, WI on this 15th day of April, 2015 -

Most restaurants try to entice clientele in with their street presence, framed menus, and greeters at the door. The Safe House is different. The goal here is to remain as inconspicuous as possible. In fact, there's not even a sign outside, nor any welcoming windows to peer in to see diners enjoying their experience. Instead, it's a wooden door with a metal placard beside it that says "International Exports, Ltd." No one would know, walking down the street, that a restaurant and bar is inside. This place has probably the most secret French Dip in existence.

"...probably the most secret French Dip in existence."

This CAN'T be a restaurant, can it?
NOT inviting!

"It's a Milwaukee institution that locals enjoy taking out-of-towners for a bar experience like no other."

The Safe House is basically a speakeasy. But rather than a prohibition theme, The Safe House goes for a spy theme. You enter, and are greeted by a receptionist who asks you to stand against the wall. She'll ask you if you know the password. And if you know it, don't say it aloud - just whisper it into her ear when she asks. If you don't know it, then expect to be asked to perform a few tasks to be let in - this could be whatever she wants. My task the first time I came to this place was to make muscle poses (with my toothpick arms). Luckily, I was in the know on my second visit, and didn't have to make a fool of myself prior to entering (and no, I'm not telling anyone the password - nor should you if you find out). After you've given the password or completed your tasks, a bookshelf door will open and you'll be sent up the stairs, and into a hallway which ends at...a full wall mirror. Where do you go now? Just wait a few seconds and the doors will open to let you in the place. Inside, the place is actually bustling. It's a Milwaukee institution that locals enjoy taking out-of-towners for a bar experience like no other.

So now that I'm in, on to the food. If you are in Wisconsin, you simply must have deep fried cheese curds. So I had to start out with that. Delicious! But I must admit that it's kind of hard to mess up deep fried cheese curds with marinara for dipping.

Deep fried cheese curds and marinara.
I ordered "Ze French Dip," as the menu calls it, for my entree, with a side of onion rings. There are 7 or 8 sides to choose from - After eating the cheese curds, I figured I should just clog my arteries all at once rather than doing it over a period of time.

The sandwich wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.

The sandwich wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. The bread was somewhat of a rectangular soft ciabatta. That's the only way I know to describe it. The roast beef was plentiful and tasty, with no fat or gristle, but nothing really special. I chose to have the sandwich topped with provolone, but it's up to you to decide on the cheese (if cheese at all). The au jus was the shining point in this dip - good consistency, the right amount of saltiness, the nice beefy flavor...just not enough of it to complete my dip. I got about 2/3 of the way through the sandwich before I went dry.

The au jus was the shining point in this dip - good consistency, the right amount of saltiness, the nice beefy flavor.

Great au jus...just not quite enough of it.
The Safe House is more or less a place you go for an interesting experience, not necessarily renowned cuisine. That being said, my meal in itself certainly left me satisfied, but not wowed. It's a decent French Dip, but the experience of the restaurant/bar itself is the real attraction here.

You can't enter the same way you came in. You've got to go through a side door in order to remain "secret" about your visit. Safe travels, secret agent...

The Meat: 3
The Bread: 2
The Au Jus: 5
The Portion: 5
Overall: 3

The Experience: 10

0 of 5 DeliciScore™ (Terrible) Awarded to Monsieur Benjamin for their French Dip Sandwich in San Francisco, CA on this 15th day of April, 2015 -

Now, I know a French Dip isn't actually French at all - it originated in Los Angeles. But after arriving at one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco (Absinthe) to find that there was an hour long wait to be seated, I decided to peruse the neighborhood on the south end of Market Street to see if there was somewhere else worth a try. Right across the street, there just so happened to be a French restaurant called Monsieur Benjamin, and as I browsed the menu...well, you know what I found - a French Dip sandwich. Done and done - I had my restaurant picked out.

"The portion was just disappointing..."

I wanted an appetizer to start out with, and chose the leek, potato and gruyere croquettes. They came with a dill/herb creme fraiche, and though quite delicious, consisted of 4 or 5 small bites of potatoes for $7.50. The portion was just disappointing, but I still had my hopes up for the French Dip.

Potato and Leek Croquettes. Yes, this is a $7.50 portion.
"When it arrived, the small sandwich, which cost $18.50, was just that - a sandwich."

When it arrived, the small sandwich, which cost $18.50, was just that - a sandwich. No fries or any side items. "Oh, you wanted french fries with that? I'll have them right up," the waiter said. I probably had them within 90 seconds of ordering that, but didn't realize at the time that a side of fries was $5. So being that I expect a sandwich to come with a side - whether it's fries, chips, veggies, a salad...whatever - that basically brings the French Dip at this place was really $23.50, very much on the pricey side. 

"a side of fries was $5."

The meat was medium rare to medium, but lacked any flavor whatsoever.

What a puny little sandwich! And that meat doesn't look all that appealing...
Gosh, what a disappointment this place was. The meat was medium rare to medium, but lacked any flavor whatsoever. The creamy horseradish was tame enough for a small child to eat. The French bread nothing to write home about (c'mon, it's a French restaurant for goodness sakes!). The Gruyere cheese - well, you just can't go wrong with Gruyere. That was the only redeeming quality of the sandwich.

"The Au Jus: It wasn't salty. It wasn't beefy. It was just sweet, and full of onions." 

So on to the au jus, what I consider the most important part of a French Dip. I can't begin to describe how much of a disappointment that was. It wasn't salty. It wasn't beefy. It was just sweet, and full of onions. Now, I know that the broth for French Onion soup can very closely resemble a perfect au jus for a French Dip. But they must have used Vidalia onions. Or a pound of sugar. Not sure which, but the jus was just way too sweet. it also had a bit of thickness to it that I just don't like in an au jus. It reminded me of what you get at Quizno's or Arby's in consistency. And Quizno's and Arby's au jus is much better than what I had at Monsieur Benjamin.

"...Arby's au jus is much better than what I had at Monsieur Benjamin."

Puny sandwich, meet puny au jus ramekin.

The fries were good, served with an aioli and ketchup. But not great. Overall, there really wasn't any part of this meal that I loved. In fact, it all pretty much was below average or average. And the centerpiece of the meal, the sandwich itself, was just a plain disappointment. Not recommended if you are in San Fran and looking for a French Dip fix.

This might just be the worst French Dip I've ever had.

The Bread: 3
The Meat: 2
The Au Jus: 0
The Price: 0
Overall Score: 0 out of 5

Thursday, April 9, 2015

5 of 5 DeliciScore™ (From Heaven) Awarded to Tub's Gourmet Subs for their Turkey into BBQ Sandwich in Lynnwood, WA on this 9th day of April, 2015 - The Firecracker (Chicken-Bacon-BBQ Sauce)

I found myself at Tubs Gourmet Subs in Lynnwood, WA on a Saturday with my buddy Brian A.  We were out car shopping (Audi and Nissan that day) and needed to grab some grub.  I searched Foursquare for recommendations nearby and it suggested Tubs and Brian agreed, so we went there.  I'd never been.  I wasn't expecting a French dip extravaganza, but I couldn't help myself.  They have other French-dip and French dip platform-like items on their menu:

Other choices I didn't get that day:
Mayo, ham, turkey, roast beef, bacon, and cheddar cheese; toasted on a baguette, topped with lettuce and tomato. Served with hot BBQ sauce for dipping.

Roast beef and your choice of cheese; toasted on a buttered baguette. Served with hot au jus.

Garlic mayo, jalapeños, sautéed onions, housemade black bean patty, fire seasoning, cheddar cheese; toasted on a baguette and served with hot BBQ sauce.

Here's what I ordered--and was happy with:

Garlic mayo, firecracker seasoning, jalapeños, chicken, bacon, and jack cheese; toasted on a baguette, topped with lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing. Served with hot (temperature) BBQ sauce for dipping. 

This is a VERY LARGE sandwich and needs to be for the > $10.00 price tag at a deli sandwich place!

Very good, hearty tomatoes.  The garlic mayo was good.  Good chicken.  Tasty sandwich!!!

Jalepeno, lettuce, good (and lots of) bread

The BBQ sauce for dipping.  Nothing to write home about but it was served hot so this qualifies as a French dip platform sandwich.

The chicken, cheese.


The bread was great.
The sandwich alone was a 5 of 5 and then you dip it into BBQ sauce caliente and it is just great.  So flavorful!!!  Tomatoes were good and big.  It was spicy with the jalepenos but not too spicy.  It definitely had a garlicky flavor (which was very good in this case).  There was mayo on in it and Brian thought maybe too much.  -1 point for that but I'm not complaining.  The overall size of the sandwich was HUGE.  It had bacon, lettuce and cheese on it and was doused with some really tasty--and attractive--seasoning salt that added to the flavor.  Lots of sodium here but not a complaint for an FD fan.

BBQ sauce was temperature hot and served in Styrofoam, so that was nice.  The BBQ sauce was good and zesty.

The Meat: 5 -- Didn't really think about it, just overall great taste
The Bread: 4 -- Lots and it was good
The Au Jus: 4 -- It was BBQ sauce so I really can't brag on it too much
The Portion: 5 -- Huge
Overall: 5 -- This is a really great sandwich with or without the BBQ sauce for dipping.  Jalepenos and garlic mayo make it great.