Beef on Weck: A Locally Famous Sandwich, Upgraded

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Buffalo Foods: Beef on Weck
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"Though served with aplomb at chicken wing-savvy restaurants such as Brennan's Bowery Bar and Duff's, the best local roast beef comes from Charlie the Butcher's."

You can find thousands of sandwiches served at millions of restaurants, but there's nothing on the planet like Buffalo's famous Beef on Weck. That's actually an abbreviation, designed to spare newcomers the confusion of its full name, the Roast Beef on Kummelweck sandwich. We're not talking about an Arby's roast beef sandwich here -- we're talking about a version that has made locals laugh at Arby's for decades. Typically twice or three times the height and 50-75% wider than a standard McDonalds hamburger, Beef on Weck is like a steak sandwich, only better. It's commonly sold for $6, give or take a dollar.

The Secret: A steak sandwich is generally charred, fatty, and loaded somewhat awkwardly onto an oversized roll or two slices of toasted bread. Beef on Weck starts with slices of freshly cooked beef cut from a lightly marinaded roast that has been cooked to some shade of perfection before sitting on a cutting block. The slices are doubled over each other in layers, sometimes drenched or lightly coated in natural juices, and placed on a special type of bun that doesn't seem to be available outside of Buffalo. Made with piquant caraway (kummel) seeds and chunks of kosher salt, the Kummelweck bun is otherwise like white bread with a thin, perfectly glazed top crust, and perfectly offsets the mild flavor of the beef inside. Some places offer Beef on Weck cooked medium well; other places start it on the medium rare side, and still others offer options ranging across the spectrum. It's best leaning in the medium rare direction, and becomes increasingly forgettable when served at or above medium. You'll almost always find a pickle and white horseradish on the plate; we consider the horseradish entirely unnecessary and distracting from the sandwich.

The Shame: Though served with aplomb at chicken wing-savvy restaurants such as Brennan's Bowery Bar and Duff's, the best local roast beef comes from Charlie the Butcher's, an expanding chain of shops that range from standalone locations (Cheektowaga) to staffed counters at Wegmans Supermarkets (Amherst, Williamsville) and even one location inside a gas station. So what's shameful about this? It's hard to go to one place and get the area's best pizza, wings, and Beef on Weck all at once; you'll have to settle for two of the three, and typically give up a little in perfection on one to optimize the taste of the other. Many places that offer all three will do some or all of them poorly.

The Alternatives: Beef on Weck is probably Buffalo's most famous sandwich, but Charlie the Butcher's herb-encrusted prime rib sandwich an even better upgrade -- and we say that as lifelong fans of Beef on Weck. For a couple of dollars more, the prime rib is even more like a steak sandwich, though it retains the characteristics of a roast rather than the char of a steak, and drips with the natural juices packed inside by expert cooking. Be careful: order it with the fat trimmed off, and savor the subtle, mouth-watering tastes of the crust and herbs, which go especially well with a Kummelweck bun. One gotcha: call ahead, as prime rib is only offered twice per week at Charlie's, and the herb-encrusted version only once of those two times.

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Comments (3)

Steve Rosel :

I am a salesman who travels all over Western NY, so I can give you a broader scope of who has the best Beef on Weck. Buffalo may be the home of this wonderful, carnivorous creation, but its two best makers of this savory sandwich are only #4 and #5 on the list, if including all makers within a 75 mile radius. Hands down #1 is the Beef n' Barrel in Olean. Ask any salesman from the Buffalo area that has Olean as part of his territory. He/she will call business-people in Olean to schedule a lunch at The Beef, even if he is not doing business with them, just to be able to devour the delicacy and write it off to his company. #2 on the list is a Beef n' Barrel "knock off" (same menus and recipes) called Beefeater's in Bradford, PA. #3 is The Beef Haus in Wellsville, then at #4 is Schwabl's in West Seneca (the Buffalo area's finest) and then, at #5, Charlie the Butcher's.

I know it is a lot to ask Buffalonians to leave the confines of Erie County (heck, to even leave whatever suburb they live in) but there really is a lot more that Western NY has to offer outside of Erie County, and it is OK to leave your comfort zone every once in a while. Get in your cars and take a Saturday drive (now that spring is here) to one of these top three Beef on Weck restaurants that I have mentioned ! You will not regret it !

Stan P :

I have tried Charlie the Butcher's a half-dozen times and they are a solid #4 on my list behind "Steve's Pig and Ox Roast", Eckels, and Schwabls.

Tom Ryan :

When I lived in Buffalo many taverns had a steam table right behind the bar. A large beef round resided therein and lasted for several days maintaining doneness from rare to well. Does anyone know how the beef was roasted and maintained without it all going to well done and without spoiling?

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