There's a hotly contested debate in Los Angeles that we will never get an answer to. No, it's not who made the best burger in LA debate of Apple Pan vs Father's Office. Nor it was a debate about whose cuisine reign supreme in Melrose between French vs New American. No, the most heated debate is who was the first to come up with the concept of "French Dip" sandwich in LA.
Cole's or Philippe's?
Philippe's situated on the Southwest side of Chinatown where it is very close to the famed Union Station where all the hubs of train transportation stops are being intersected. They have for the longest time claimed that in 1918, one of their loyal customer who was in a rush ordered a sandwich to go. However, someone dropped the french roll bread to the roasting pan with juices that we now affectionately called au jus. The customer took that sandwich with buns being dipped with the juices. Next day, he came back ordered a lot more of these sandwiches, but with one request. He wanted the bread to be dipped in that sauce that was accidentally lavished with the previous day before. That is how Philippe's are sticking to their claim to history.
Cole's in downtown LA was located in the old Pacific Electric building where it served as the main stops for the Pacific Electric Railway. If you have seen some of the streets in downtown Los Angeles, you'll noticed that there are many signs of railway tracks on the streets being removed. Back in the old days, you can see trolley as a form of transportation in the busy and tight streets of LA. Cole's was a pitstop for many of their bar patrons as they served many types of classic cocktails on beers on tap in their fine restaurant establishment.
The version is given at Cole's was that a customer requested the bread of the sandwich to be soft as his teeth was hurting from dental work. So, the proprietor at Cole's dipped the bread in the au jus sauce to soften the bread for the customer with sensitive teeth. Other patrons at Cole's saw this unique concoction of sandwich being dipped into a bowl of sauce and requested the same sandwich being dipped. Voila! That's how Cole's version of French Dip sandwich was born.
Both restaurant supposedly opened in 1908. The dispute of actual date who actual came up with it first has always been in doubt for both sides. The only side with a date on print was Philippe's who posted on their website to be in 1918, but Cole's will tell you that their sandwich happened a lot of sooner than 1918 and have boasted their claim as the inventor of French Dip Sandwiches everywhere that has their name in it.
Cole's was closed for about a year and half for restoration in 2007 before finally re-opened on December of 2008 to a restart of the much reheated debate. The restaurant was originally called Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet (aka Cole's PE Buffet). With the remodeling comes the rebranding of their establishment, now simply called Cole's.
The restaurant/bar has improved their decor where they have cleaned up the interior, but yet retains the charms of the look from the turn of 20th century. Most of the booth seats have fresh new leather and much better looking lights hanging on a low ceiling. They still kept photos and any memorabilia that is showing the history since the opening of the restaurant from the old days. Some of these photos were quite intriguing considering that show some of the landmarks in their former glory with today's modern infrastructure displacing some of other former neighbors.
They kept some of their classic cocktails and beers on tap for the drinks menu. I would have gone to the bar because it had better lighting, but I want to see and experience dining area where the booth seats are at. Still, it didn't deter from ordering the "Old Fashioned" cocktail which was pretty strong. That one takes a licking because I didn't think I could handled bourbon whiskey so early in the afternoon. Wowser!
The big test and the moment have finally arrived. I have decided to get their famous French Dip Sandwich with an added side of Goat Cheese. The protein was the hand carved beef in a French roll with an extra added au jus on the side of the plate. A pickle was a complimentary item to the dish situated in the center of the plate.
With my first dip of the half sandwich into the Au Jus sauce (which is a juice boiled from leftover meat) and I can immediately tell the difference between the bread that was dipped and the side of the bread that was unaffected. It does gave a new flavor and texture to both the bread and whichever meat you have chosen from the menu.
Overall, I did enjoyed the sandwich and find the Au Jus would enhanced that sandwich. The service was excellent throughout the afternoon and I did find some cool photos on the wall at the dining room while I was waiting for the food. Believe it or not, the cocktail on the menu cost more than the sandwich itself with $10 flat for all cocktail drinks.
As in for the debate, can't really say the dust have settled on who was the first to come up with these concept for sandwich. However, I think they should concentrate on who makes the best sandwiches. Now that would be the worthwhile debate.
ps. Please see the Review of Philippe's.
118 E. 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014