"Since 1837" say all the signs and cocktail napkins. You can almost picture the parking lot full of horse-drawn carriages back in the day. This has been the beef on weck landmark for years. A man with a serious-looking knife is on carving duty. You look around—just about every table has a beef on weck. The waitress will ask how you want your beef—we requested medium-rare, but they only had medium ready. "Don't worry, it'll still be plenty juicy," our waitress promised. And she was right.
Dab it with fresh horseradish, sitting in tubs with tiny spoons on each table. But the bun, whoa there. It's salty. Almost I-just-wiped-out-on-a-wave-and-got-water-up-my-nose-salty. Even the slightest nibble of bread is a salt bomb.
The storied birthplace of Buffalo wings, Anchor Bar isn't covered with press clips about their beef on weck. Food Network and umpteen other travel shows didn't stop here for the sandwich either. It's all about the wings, duh. But the tchotchke-covered bar threw it on the menu too. We liked the caraway seed-heavy bun, though the fragrant flavor did overwhelm the few salt crystals sprinkled on top. Ultimately, it was the meat's fault. It had that sad beef shade of brown-gray (shudder) and wasn't even a little bit juicy. And strike two, it was served with a packet of creamy, mayo-blended horseradish. Not the real stuff at all!
Like Anchor Bar, you go to Duff's for the wings (and the 13 sauce options!) not the beef on wecks. But this sandwich actually wasn't all that bad. The pale, sqishy bun had a nice caraway-seed-to-salt ratio and the horseradish was the real-deal, nostril-clearing kind. The roast beef could have been juicier. Overall, just a so-so sandwich.
Charlie the Butcher's Carving Station
After three stops, there was no doubt that this was it. The beef on weck winner, we found it. Sorry, Anthony Bourdain, but you really should have stopped here on No Reservations instead of Schwabl's for beef on weck. Carved right in front of you (by Charlie or one of his carving students), the beef is juicy, steamy, pinkish, and just melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
Charlie the Butcher
The bun is soft with a golden top, and salty enough to flavor the beef—but you're not reaching for a jug of water to rehydrate after—with the right balance of sporadically sprinkled caraway seeds. The horseradish isn't sinus-exploding hot, but still has a bite. You'll want to eat the fresh root shreds by the forkful. All of the elements are perfect.