Sensational Sandwich Review

Below street level in the historic core of Downtown LA, lies one of two warring factions that claim to have invented the French dip. A fluorescent marquee peeks out over a weathered awning like a day-glo groundhog, advertising Cole’s sandwiches and cocktails. When an enthusiast comes across an establishment that insists it is the “originator” of one of the most essential sandwiches in history, she has no choice but to investigate the matter further. With all the wanton badassery of Magnum P.I., but with a slightly thinner and less sexual mustache, I descended the steps from 6th Street and entered what can only be described as a dusky turn-of-the-century sandwich brothel. The red velour wallpaper, dark-stained wooden panelling, and blood-red leather booths brandished their monocles and flashed me the side-eye as if to say: no matter what time it is outside, it’s always after six in here, old boy.

As is customary at Cole’s, I ordered at the bar and then sat myself down in a booth whose adjacent wall was dappled with time-worn pictures of celebrity patrons and historic LA scenery. I awaited my beef dip. Turner & Hooch era Tom Hanks smiled through a dusty glass frame. The ink on Billy Crystal’s signature was fading. A daguerreotype-style print of downtown, all dirt roads and horse-drawn buggies, loomed large on an opposing wall. Spherical lanterns hung from the ceiling, emitting an incandescent glow — warm pale yellow, like fresh parchment or old mayonnaise — that glinted candy apple-red off the lacquered ceiling. Blue cigar smoke should have been clouding my vision, and bootleg moonshine glueing my boots to the tiled floors, but this is LA in 2018: smoking indoors is illegal, and Southern Comfort is as cost-effective than bathtub gin.

My sandwich came, accompanied by a lagoon-ful of liquid and an “atomic” pickle. The French dip is a simple creation with two ingredients: a French roll and beef, dipped in “jus”, a byproduct of the cooking process. Cole’s French dip had a quiet arrogance: the casual way it sat on the plate said “you’re goddamn right the French dip was invented here.” The bread crust was brown and shiny on the outside, but still malleable, suggesting an egg-white glaze — the hallmark of a French roll. Cole’s roll was springy, erring on the side of stale instead of soft, which makes me think it was more than a day old. The inside of the bread was covered in a wash of butter and then grilled crumb-down, probably to revive its texture and give it a more savory taste. The beef was kind of gray, haphazardly arranged, and stringy with insufficient umami undertones as if the flavor had been boiled out into the jus. Fortunately, none of these supposed shortcomings are generally a problem when it comes to a French dip. When dunked liberally into its own delicious secretions, this sandwich achieves its true form. Stale-ish bread becomes a perfect vehicle for sopping up succulent meat-liquid while maintaining the structural integrity of the sandwich. Uninspiring meat becomes a luscious and fat-trimmed flavor epiphany. If you really want to take this sandwich from six to midnight, add melted cheddar. As I took another ambitious, sopping-wet bite, jus dribbled down my chin. Fireworks exploded. Nirvana was achieved. All over America, late-bloomers and Puritans had their first orgasms. A Star Was Born. Had I been a denizen of L.A. in the 1910s, I may well have chosen a Cole’s dip over the polio vaccine.

Bread texture : 2.5/5

Bread flavor: 3/5

Overall texture: 3/5

Overall flavor: 3.5/5

First Bite Factor: 2.5/5

Gotta Keep Coming Back factor: 4.5/5

Total: 19/30

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