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Sunday Sandwich: Hot Roast Beef & Turkey

Hot roast beef (& turkey) sandwiches

Open, hot roast beef [or turkey] sandwiches slathered with gravy and served with mashed potatoes are popular in many parts of the country. They are known by different names according to the region: "Roast Beef Commercials" in the upper midwest (Minnesota), "Hot Beef," (South Dakota), "Roast Beef Manhattans" in central mid-west (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois), "Hot Roast Beef Sandwich" on both coasts. These economical belly-filling simple dishes are generally served (no matter what they're called) in working-class eateries and community dinners. Every once in a while you find hot roast beef/turkey type entrees in trendy restaurants experimenting with retro comfort fare.

Where did the idea come from? Cookbooks confirm people have been serving sliced/diced meats mixed with sauce over starches (bread, noodles, rice) for hundreds of years. This type of meal was generally served to family, as it generally used leftovers. Protein sources vary according to place and period: chipped (dried, frizzled) beef on toast was well-known by American pioneers. Many popular variations did not include meat (Welsh Rarebit, Biscuits & Gravy) or included scant pieces of meat in the gravy (ham gravy).

This 1877 recipe for "Beefsteak Toast" is not so very different from the modern version.

"Just at present, there is a big run on the hot roast beef sandwich, with the bread soaked in gravy, with gravy in the plate and gravy poured over it all. The general appearance is that of a tired ark in a gravy flood. Though unattractive to look at it eats all right, which is the main point. Certain restaurants have been charging 30 cents for it without accessories, but a new place has been opened in a basement of Nassau Street [New York City] where the price is 20 cents, with mashed or baked potatoes and bread and butter. The saving of 10 cents and the additional provender have drawn to the cellar so large a number of the hungry that hundreds have to wait fifteen or thirty minutes for tables or counters at which to eat."
---"Popular Luncheons," Washington Post, May 16, 1900 (p. 6)

"Hot Sandwiches. A very noticeable feature of present-day catering is the sandwich--especially the hot sandwich. They are a prominent feature of popular-priced and quick lunch places and many of the best hotels run one or more hot sandwiches each day. As generally made in the European plan hotel, two slices of bread are laid on a platter, side by side; then the sliced meat is placed on the bread, over which is poured the gravy (real gravy, not the messy kind), and alongside it a garnish of mashed potatoes. When well put up, they make a nice luncheon. 

Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches |
Slow-Cooker Hot Roast Beef

Suggestions for hot sandwiches:

Hot turkey sandwich, browned sweet potato.
Hot minced chicken sandwich on toast.
Hot capon sandwich, oyster sauce.
Hot fresh ham sandwich, country gravy.
Hot minced chicken sandwich, a la King.
Hot roast turkey sandwich, chicken gravy.
Hot chopped beefsteak sandwich, chili sauce.
Hot sliced chicken sandwich, egg sauce.
Hot roast beef sandwich, au jus."
---Hotel Butcher, Garde Manger and Carver, Frak Rivers [Hotel Monthly Press: Chicago] 1935 (p. 90)

What does "Commercial" mean in this context? It's one of several grades of beef defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Commercial...(in U.S. Government grading of beef) graded between standard and utility."
---Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Stuart Berg Flexner, Editor in Chief [Random House: New York] second edition (p. 411)

"Ted and Dorothy Husted established Wall Drug in 1931...Diners feast on the house speciality--billed as the Hot Beef--a hot roast beef sandwich on white bread with the halves separated by a scoop of mashed potatoes and covered with right brown gravy. It's a true taste of South Dakota."

---American Sandwich: Great Eats From All 50 States, Becky Mercuri [Gibbs Smith: Salt Lake City] 2004 (p. 112)


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