Normcore: It’s not just for high-waisted jeans anymore. That’s right, the art-school-birthed anti-fashion that’s all the rage with your (un)coolest Tumblr friends is coming over for lunch, and we couldn’t be more excited. Not that we plan to neglect our hipster foods—we still love our artisan cheeses and will eat any handcrafted pickle you put in front of us. But sometimes you just need something, um, predictable. Something unsurprising. Something, well, normal.
Here on the north side of the Charles River, things don’t get much more normal than the humble roast beef sandwich. Arguably Revere Beach’s greatest contribution to world culture, the roast beef sandwich was created at the original Kelly’s way back in ‘51 before becoming the North Shore’s most ubiquitous foodstuff. It’s a model of mid-century meal- time efficiency—warm, thin-sliced beef on a toasted onion roll with cheese and barbecue sauce—a meal so sublimely simple it’s easy to overlook in a world with so many options.
It’s also a dish that inspires fierce loyalty. Incalculable hours have been spent arguing over the distinctions between Harrison’s in North Andover versus Nick’s in Beverly, or which Bill & Bob’s franchise stacks up against what Kelly’s outpost. Punches have been thrown and friendships destroyed over these things. If you grew up here, it’s not uncommon to have an unwavering devotion to your roast beef place. But sadly, we can’t spend every lunch break traipsing across the state in search of sandwiches, so here are our top spots bringing North Shore vibes to Somerville.
While we were initially skeptical of Roast Beef and Pizza King—hey, we’re New Englanders, we’ve got long-held, deeply rooted suspicions of the monarchy—those notions were quickly dispelled. It’s a small, spartan operation with a counter, a couple of booths and enough formica to feel like it was plucked straight out of the mid-’80s. It’s that sort of non-attention to decor that fits perfectly within the normcore aesthetic, and the low-key, friendly attitude of the proprietors makes it perfectly chill.Our one complaint: The roast beef was a tad overdone. While we don’t feel that every roast beef joint has to be part of the “meat so pink you question whether the cow was actually dead” brinkmanship that typifies the the beef-biz, it would be nice if it was a wee bit more rare. That said, the heaping pile of meat on our super beef sauce and cheese or, I should say, supahbeefsawsandcheez (yes, you should be ordering it in one breath, mangling as many vowels as possible for authenticity’s sake) was really flavorful, the sauce tangy and the huge roll toasted to perfection.
Don’t let their Google listing fool you: Deli-licious is not a cash advance store nor do they peddle in debt consolidation. They are a sandwich shop—and a solid one at that. All Internet weirdness aside— just hit up Foodler for their up-to-date info—Deli-licious are a longtime Davis Square staple known for taking the roast beef sandwich into unexpected territory. Like, for real, you’re not going to find combos like Sweet and Sour Beef, Buffalo Soldier Beef or Chili Cheese Beef anywhere north of the Mystic River.
To that end, they do seem a bit confused when we go straight up North Shore with our supahbeefsawsandcheez —”he just wants sauce and cheese, how do I ring that up?”—but the end result worked out just fine. Like the King, Deli-licious goes with a well-done beef, cut thicker than your Cousin Sully from Saugus might approve of, but still a solid sandwich. The super-size roll is smaller than average, but it is conveniently sized for consumption on your way to or from the subway.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! While we are understandably suspect of any establishment that touts its own food as “famous,” Broadway Eatery’s “famous roast beef” is really, really good. With super-thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth rare beef topped with James River BBQ sauce—the key to making a Kelly’s-grade sandwich—the Broadway Eatery makes a sandwich that even your Cousin Larry from Lynn could get behind.
The knowing smile from the lady behind the counter as we mumbled supahbeefsawsandcheez in our thickest North Shore brogue—a totally different beast from its similar but not-as-awesome South Shore sibling—was all the signal we needed to know we were in for a treat. And while the decor is hipper than we’d hoped for—exposed brick, corrugated steel, etc.—the food was so solid, so sturdy, simple and delicious, that it was almost like we had journeyed to the far off lands north of the Mystic Valley.
[This story originally appeared in the November/December edition of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 100 locations around the city.]