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I got hungry writing this

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I live about 70 miles south of Buffalo, the birthplace of chicken wings—which most people have heard of—as well as a lesser-known regional speciality, beef on weck.

The beef part is thin slices of roast beef. It can be sliced wafer thin, but the sandwich is more robust if the beef slices are about as thick as a pile of two or three nickels. The beef on a good sandwich is stacked as high as the thickness of your thumb or maybe a little higher.

"Weck" is short for kummelweck, which in shape resembles a kaiser roll or a large hamburger bun. The top is browned to just this side of crustiness, but what sets the top off are a layer of salt (like you might find on pretzels) and caraway seeds. It is a regional roll, a regional sandwich, and if you've never been to western New York or don't have relatives in the area, you may never have heard of it. Even if you have, you've probably heard it referred to as "beef on wick," not weck.

I had two sandwiches for supper last night, but this is not about how great the beef on weck tastes. It's about the most important condiment on the sandwich: horseradish.

It's tough to find good processed horseradish, and even when you can find it, the hotness doesn't keep well. Without its heat, horseradish is nothing special, even bland.

For several years, the restaurant where I buy my sandwiches has been serving horseradish of the "not so special" variety. In the past couple of weeks, though, they've been serving horseradish so strong it makes your eyes water.

When I know I've got real horseradish, I slather the beef with it. The heat shoots straight up your nose into your sinuses. Your face feels flushed. Your eyes water. The back of your throat burns.

But that's not the best horseradish. The best horseradish does all of the above, but it also sucks the air out of your lungs. Your chest feels like a blast furnace. It feels like you'll never be able to breathe again. You gasp for air. You can't talk. Your eyes involuntarily close, and when you finally are able to open them, it feels like your eyeballs are going to pop out. Your cheeks are wet with tears.

After that, you take smaller bites of the sandwich to avoid further backlash. But the beef on weck sandwich usually is served cut in half, so after you finish half of the sandwich, you ladle the blast furnace horseradish onto the second half of the sandwich and go through the ritual again.

Beef on wecks (around my town, anyway) are served with a dill pickle spear. You finish your sandwich, eat the pickle, wipe the last tear from your eyes and wish you were still hungry so you could have another one.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
nodressrehersal
Feb. 2nd, 2013 02:28 am (UTC)
Nail on the head. We typically buy Miller's Horseradish up here - it seems to pack the best wallop.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 2nd, 2013 12:53 pm (UTC)
Some time ago someone reviewed the Beef and reported that the horseradish was stale. The owners decided to make sure it is fresh everyday. I believe the increase in potency is related to the freshness. At Third Base, Sparky's whole menu is great, wings, prime rib sandwich, and the ever popular Big Ass Cheeseburger slathered in onions...too bad it's only 8 am, I'm starving after this. Holiday
(Anonymous)
Feb. 2nd, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
the review was a while back - it was Janice Okun at the Buffalo News. I think someone wrote in and asked her where to get the best beef on weck in WNY, and she threw in some comments about places that served the same jars of horseradish over and over, well after it had turned brown.
I have never understood the raves about Schwabl's. I had a beef on weck there once, and it was mediocre. B 'n B's are better by far. Actually, the beef on weck at Wegman's across from McKinley Mall is really good, too. (But their pickles are "meh".)
t.c.
PS I find the horseradish experience also involves a tingling scalp - and by "tingling" I mean it feels like my scalp is separating from my head. Hard to believe that that is enjoyable - good pain!
theoldsport
Feb. 3rd, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
I'm going through some beef on weck withdrawal down here. Nobody here really understands what it is or why anyone would like it.

Another food not specific to the region but also not found around here in eastern Pennsylvania is salt-rising bread. One of my aunts grew up in Cuba, and I'd bring salt-rising bread to her over breaks.
patrick_vecchio
Feb. 3rd, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
If your aunt likes salt-rising bread that much, I'm going to have to try it.

How about fish fries? Do they have them in eastern Pennsylvania? And what are the foods you missed during your time here?
theoldsport
Feb. 4th, 2013 05:33 am (UTC)
Yeah, we have fish fries here, although I don't think I've ever had one myself. Maybe that's something I'll try during Lent this year.

When I was away from home, I couldn't stand being away from Turkey Hill Iced Tea (Ask C-Mack about it. He says its "like liquid crack") and Tastykakes (Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes and Butterscotch Krimpets).

Also, I spent four years trying to find fastnachts -- fatty, sugar-coated doughnuts -- in western New York. You can get them everywhere around Lancaster on Fastnacht Day (Fat Tuesday).

And, while we're on doughnuts, I'm a Dunkin' man, but I really, really miss Timmy Ho's. There's just something unique about chains founded by hockey players.
patrick_vecchio
Feb. 4th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
You probably could have found fastnachts at the Broadway Market in Buffalo, but that's a long drive for doughnuts.

As for Timmy Ho's, the one closest to campus is owned by a cousin of Mario Lemieux. He is one of the rare franchisees who has photos of Tim Horton on display.

Are there other food chains founded by hockey players?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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