Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Have Moved

You can find an explanation at my new blog, Markaeology. All former French Dip Review posts have been copied over there.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The French Dip Review Lives On!

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, the French Dip Review has not had an update in quite some time, since the 14th of November, as a matter of fact. By my precise calculations, that is a long time. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is the interference of school work and finals, sucking me dry of the free-time to visit fine eateries and munch their French dip sandwiches. You the reader may incorrectly think eating and reviewing French dip sandwiches is all fun and games, that there is no price to pay for consuming them, but let me be the first to tell you that it is a taxing process, both in terms of the time it takes to actually eat the French dip and in the amount of time it takes to write a review.
And so, if you would kindly forgive me for my long absence, I would like to share with the great Food Reviewing Blogosphere two and a half pieces of information regarding The French Dip Review.

Around the time of my last review, I ate at a local Decorah establishment twice, both times ordering and ingesting their French dips. I took notes my first time, and I remember the experience well both times. I hope to have a review of this French dip up soon, hopefully before Friday. Without a doubt it will take the title of “Best French Dip” away from Arby’s, no contest.

As French dip sandwich loremasters are likely aware, there are two restaurants in Los Angeles which both claim to be the original home of the French dip: Cole’s Pacific Electrical Buffet and Philippe the Original. While I have not had time to substantiate the competing claims of these two, I respect the fact that they both strive to be the originator of the world’s best sandwich, and I hope to someday make a pilgrimage to Los Angeles and review both in a head-to-head French dip-off.

Regardless of my impartiality towards these two eateries, this Christmas I received a shirt from Philippe’s, and let me tell you it is pretty awesome. I intend on wearing it from time to time when I do my reviews, but I pray that the representatives of Cole’s will not see this as an endorsement of a French dip sandwich I have not yet consumed. Instead, I wear it as a remembrance of the rich history of the French dip sandwich and those who love it enough to claim to be its creator.

My Perkins gift cards from their corporate offices are floating around somewhere, and I hope to find them and a scanner soon to share with you the bounty of my review. It actually was a really nice, personalized letter, with $20 in Perkins gift cards included. As I promised, I will go back to the Perkins on University Ave. in Madison at the end of January to re-review their French dip sandwich, hopefully getting the correct bread so I will be able to give it a more respectable rating. Look for that review to come at the end of January or the beginning of February. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep the fresh reviews coming.

That is all for now, I just want to thank everyone for sticking with me, I know it can’t be much fun checking the blog and seeing that nothing has been updated for over a month. But the past is behind us, and there are only brighter days ahead. As Tim Allen most famously said, “To another French dip review, and beyond!”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arby's at 333 Apache Mall Rochester, MN 55902
31/50 - Standard, run-of-the-mill

One of the most commonly asked questions I field concerning my blog is "When are you going to review Arby's French dip sandwich?" The interest in this sandwich probably stems from the fact that it has such high visibility compared to other French dips, featuring prominently in Arby's commercials throughout the great US of A. Ever looking to make my readers happy, I have been trying to find a time to review the Arby's rendition of the French dip since this blogs induction, one of the major hurdles preventing me from doing so being the fact that Decorah, IA has not one Arby's. Luckily, while visiting home this weekend, my girlfriend offered to go to Arby's with me for lunch, along with her mom and her mom's boyfriend. We decided to go to the food court at the local mall so that everyone could have what they wanted and I wouldn't have to force Arby's down their throats.

Bread: 8/10 pts

The one things I noticed about the bread right away is that it looked like sub. This makes sense, as the sandwich is marketed as "Arby's French Dip and Swiss Toasted Sub", or AFDSTS for short. Now, I consider myself a connoisseur of French dips, but not necessarily a puritan. I am willing to try new takes on the French dip, and will accept them if they exceed my current paradigms. I understand that sandwiches evolve just like anything else, as, in the words of Darwin, "survival of the tastiest" prevails. and the French dip is no exception. For evidence of this evolution, one needs to look no further than the Swiss cheese commonly put on modern French dips, but absent in the originals. But I digress. Because sandwiches evolve, it is not necessarily a bad thing if they tried to go in a different direction with this sandwich (even if all they did was put it on a toasted sub bun).

And for the most part, it worked. The bread was warm, moist even before the au jus, and had the slight taste of what I think was sourdough. It was toasted almost perfectly, being slightly crispy, but not crunchy, with a soft interior. All in all I think that, for what they were trying to go for, this was a pretty good attempt and better than I would have thought Arby's capable. Nonetheless, I do not think this sub take on the bread tasted better than a French baguette or hoagie roll, and thus, sadly, points must be deducted. But I really appreciate them trying. A for effort.

Roast Beef: 4/10 pts
While the bread might have been the strong point of this sandwich, the meat was one of the weak points. The meat included in this sandwich was sliced super thin, but packed super tight, so much so that I would get mouthfuls of only meat. This would be fine, if the meat wasn't the same exact meat that Arby's used on every single other sandwich it has made ever. If you have eaten at Arby's before, you know what I am talking about; The sickly looking, somewhat fatty beef that is fine for the first few bites, but at the end of your sandwich you find yourself gagging down. This wasn't really an issue with this particular sandwich or this particular location. All Arby's everywhere seem to use this beef. I can appreciate that higher quality meat would cost more, but this meat is one of the reasons I have not eaten at Arby's in almost a year. The beef is just plain... bland. There is no other way to describe it. It is the Ann "Egg" Veal of meats.

Cheese: 8/10 pts
Arby's did just about everything right with the cheese in this sandwich, earning their cheese score high marks. The cheese had just the right amount of flavor, having just a small tang of taste on my tongue with each bite. I also appreciated the fact that the cheese was included in the price, and that I was not extorted into paying extra for it.

My only complaints were that the cheese was a little oozy, sometimes squirting off the side of the sandwich, and that there could have been a little more of it. Some bites I struggled to taste the cheese at all, but this could have also been due to the fact that some bites consisted only of bland meat.

Au Jus: 3/10 pts
The au jus was probably the most disappointing part about this French dip. While I knew their roast beef would be bland, I had no idea the au jus would be also. When I opened up the container, I was hit by a warm blast of... bland vapor. It smelled like watered-down coffee. I was told by my contact inside Arby's that they make the juice by mixing powder and water. Unfortunately they seemed to have added too much water and not enough powder. The diluted nature of this au jus could even been seen, the color being somewhere between tan and light brown, and not the dark chocolate brown we have all come to expect with a well made French dip.

And is that a disappointing way to make au jus or what? Au jus is supposed to be the juice of the meat taken from its time cooking. Now, I realize some restaurants might cut corners and make the au jus some other way, but I have never had dipping juice that was so obviously artificially manufactured and so bland. This au jus was so tasteless that I enjoyed the sandwich a lot more without it, and without au jus, "French dip" becomes a French... something else. The one good thing I have to say about is that the au jus was plentiful, and I could have used it for the entire sandwich and still had enough to spare. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.

Miscellaneous: 8/10pts

  • Appearance: 1/2 pts
    The main problem that this French dip suffered from is that it was trying really hard to be a toasted sub and not a French dip, which is fine, but it was not recognizable for what it was. I had no way to tell it was actually a French dip until sinking my teeth into it. It just looked like a plain sub sandwich, the basic, standard look you can see in a million other sub joints. It really was not that appetizing to look at, and did not do justice to the French dip name. Yet another French dip that I am better looking than (although it's going to get close by the end of "No-shave November").

  • Price: 3/3 pts
    For only $5.01 (plus tax), I was able to get my French dip, a large bowl of au jus, a drink, and a small curly fries. For the quantity of food I was given, it was quite a steal. After I finished eating my French dip, I noticed a coupon on my tray liner for 1 cent off my next French dip purchase, thus making this cheap sandwich even cheaper. Nice token of goodwill, Arby's. Don't break the bank.

  • Restaurant: 2/2 pts
    This wasn't really a restaurant, more of a branch set up in a food court. It was a clean place, service was surprisingly swift, and the person who helped me, Meaghan the Shift Manager, was calm and cheerful for how busy it was on a Saturday during lunch time. The place had just as good a selection of drinks as any other fast food place, and overall I was fairly impressed, but then again Arby's has always been one of the better looking fast-food establishments.

  • Extras 2/3 pts
    I think that the curly fries are amazing, I'm just going to throw that out there. I was given a drink and some fries with my meal, they were enough to last me the entire process, and they were tasty. My only gripe is that I wish there were more options to select from other than curly fries. If someone came and didn't like curly fries, they would be up the river without a paddle. Sure, you might be able to substitute potato cakes, but that's just more potatoes. Wouldn't it be nice to have more options? I think so.

Final Tally: 31/50 pts

Why does it always seem that all the French dips I have reviewed have had at least one major downfall? The AFDSTS is no exception. While the cheese and the bread shone bright, the meat and au jus dragged it down into the abyss. This could have been a really great rendition of the French dip sandwich, and I am just left wondering what could have been. A little adjusting here and there and I feel as though the toasted sub approach to French dips could be the next big thing, as I really appreciated the fact that this sandwich, unlike the ones before, was not super greasy and oily. But regardless of how "meh" this sandwich was, it was still better than the two French dips I have reviewed prior, and it managed to claw its way up into the mediocre "run-of-the-mill" rating. Way to go Arby's, as of now you have the highest rated French dip on The French Dip Review.

Notes taken during review:

Arby's. Au jus smells like coffee. Watery. Meat is sickly looking. Bread is sub bread, marketed as sub. Meat is bland, thin, pale, fatty. Bread is ok. Cheese is right amount, a little oozy. No taste. The whole sandwich was bland. Price is right. Not greasy at all.

I will post soon updating everyone about my Perkins gift card situation and about the French dip sandwich I ate a Tbocks in Decorah last weekend. Stay frosty, keep eating French dips, and always remember, as Napoleon Bonaparte said, "A man will fight harder for his French dip than for his rights."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The French Dip Review is Featured on The Consumerist

The week just keeps getting better.

Not only did I inaugurate this blog with a review of a Perkins French dip sandwich, get a call from their regional manager, get a gift card sent to me, AND find a French dip in my schools cafeteria, but apparently my sister sent my story into The Consumerist, which has led to this humble blog (21 French dip loving followers, yeah!) being featured on their site.

Perkins Is Really Genuinely Concerned That Your French Dip Sandwich Sucked

Oh how the meager have risen. You know when you are featured on The Consumerist that you have reached the big leagues.

I would just like to thank everyone who wrote comments in that article, I read them all. Yes, I agree with you all, French dips are awesome. Yes, it is funny that I have created a blog dedicated to reviewing French dips, but only in the "Isn't it funny that no one has thought to exclusively review one of the best foods to have ever graced our planet?" sort of way. Oh, and concerning the heated thread regarding my use of the word niggardly, I was merely using shorthand. What I meant was "Perkins was niggardly with their fries," not that the fries themselves were being niggardly.

I would also like to welcome my new followers, who undoubtedly love French dip sandwiches as much as the rest of us. Feel free to introduce yourselves in the comments of this post. I hope you check back often for more reviews, lest you go to a restaurant which turns you off to the holiness that is French dip.

But fear not, fellow French dip lovers, this feature will not go to my head. I realize that I am still your humble servant, selflessly reviewing French dips to separate the wheat from the chaff, all so you can enjoy the best sandwiches this world has ever known.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Luther College Cafeteria at 700 College Drive Decorah, IA 52101
23/50 - Sub-par

Today must be my lucky day.

Last night while eating dinner, I thought to myself "You know what, Mark? I haven't seen any French dips this year in the cafeteria." While last year's French dips were nothing to write home about, this year the Luther cafeteria is under new management, being one of the many victims of the shadowy, faceless organization Sodexo. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, they could cook me up a better one than the old guard could. After eating, but before I left to return to my dorm, I grabbed a comment card, on which I planned to suggest they cook everyone's favorite sandwich au jus.

Well last night was somewhat busy, and so I never got a chance to write my comment. This afternoon, somewhat dejected that I had nothing to pin on the cafeteria comment board, I headed to lunch. I stood in the entree line, got my country-fried steak, a slice of pizza, and sat down with my pal Ross. As we were eating, I looked what was in front of him and froze, confused by what I saw. Some parts of it were unmistakably a French dip: The hoagie-esqu bread, the thin slices of roast beef, the Swiss cheese. Other parts pointed away from it being a French dip: the onions scattered on the sandwich and, the most egregious slap in the face to a French dip reviewed on this blog yet, no au jus. I asked him "Is that a French dip?" "No," he said, "It's a Philly Cheesesteak." I looked at him incredulously and replied "No way, there is no way that's a Philly Cheesesteak, it looks way more like a French dip." I decided to investigate further, and so I got up from my seat and headed over to the grill line. And lo and behold, what I saw made me giddy.

Holy. Crap. It must be my birthday or something, because there is no way a gift like this just falls into your lap. What are the odds that the day after I think that the cafeteria should get French dips, they just happened to have them. Am I really this lucky? Should I go buy lottery tickets for tonight? I grabbed two baskets, as the sandwiches were rather small, and scurried back to my seat elated, ready to eat and review my latest find, hoping this sandwich would be better than the Perkins debacle. What I found was the opposite.

Bread: 7/10 pts

The bread was actually one of the best parts of this French dip. It was actually on a sort-of hoagie bun, as opposed to just regular bread. It was not too soft or crispy, and wasn't too flat or... not flat. My only gripes with this bread is that it could have been a little better quality, as it had almost no taste, and that it was rather dry, sucking up the moisture in my mouth. This could have been remedied with some au jus sauce, but as you will soon see, that just simply was not an option. Unfortunately, on account of this same problem, I was unable to rate the absorption factor of this bread, although it surely would have preformed admirably.

Roast Beef: 6/10 pts

After the first few bites of this roast beef, I thought it was actually pretty good, and was thinking about rating it a 7 or an 8. After all, it was cooked exceedingly well, not being too tough, nor raw, nor burned. It also had somewhat of a pleasant taste to it, and the fat to meat ratio was just about perfect. But I soon realized that I was focusing only on the good aspects of the meet and not considering the negatives.

For starters, the meat was colder than Luke Skywalker in the wampa's ice lair on Hoth during winter. Being a red-blooded American and not some sissy Canadian, it was an immediate turn off to say the least. There is no reason for the meat to be cold. If they are going to make these French dips and tantalize me with the prospect of a good meal, they should at the very least install hot lamps to keep them warm, and instead they should make them to order. I feel bad saying this because once again, the lady in the grill line today was really nice. Now I realize, I could have taken my French dip and popped in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and been happier. But let me ask you something... should I have to? Is that the utter disregard with which we are handling our French dips these days? Is it acceptable to have to heat your sandwich up yourself due to lack of foresight on the part of the chef? I think not.

In addition to the temperature issue, the meat was rather stringy. I would take a bite and pull back, and the meat would hold hands and form a paper doll chain and all come out onto my basket. I would have to pick it up and stuff it back into my sandwich if I wanted my next bite to have any meat at all. Another issue was the taste of the meat. Now I know I said it didn't taste that bad, pretty good in fact, but by the end of the sandwich I felt like I was gagging it down. It just had almost no appeal to it. Its as though I became immune to the taste of the first few bites and was instead eating show leather.

Cheese: 5/10 pts

The cheese on this sandwich was much like the roast beef. At first I thought it was alright, I mean how can you screw up a slice of cheese? But in the middle of my second mini sandwich I felt as though I was gagging it down. This could be to two main issues. First, the cheese was really greasy, like Mark without a shower for four days greasy, so greasy I could swear that I could see my reflection in it. Second, it had almost too strong of a taste, making me think that this cheese had neared its expiration date before being unceremoniously tossed on my sandwich. And that's exactly what happened, they just tossed it on there. When I got my sandwich, it was half hanging out the side. While this technically doesn't count as "oozing out the side," as mentioned in the reviewing standards, it still was a bit of a turn off, and further illustrated Sodexo's lack of respect for this sacred sandwich. Heretics.

Au Jus: 0/10 pts

Well... if you didn't notice by looking at the earlier pictures... there is no au jus. That's right. A French dip without the dip. So technically they have no right to call this sandwich a "French dip", it should just be a "French". What, oh what were they thinking? If you are going to make your bread so dry that it makes me feel like Satan tempting Jesus in the desert for forty days, the very least you can do is take some of the juices expelled during the cooking, collect them in a bowl, add a little salt, put the resulting concoction in a small cup, and serve it with the dip.

However, for a while I debated whether I should award Sodexo 1/10 points in this category for NOT giving me au jus, as it probably would have just made me sick to my stomach. Trust me, I have seen the grill they cook these on, and it is not pleasant. Does anyone remember Quantum of Solace, where M mentions finding the guy with motor oil in his stomach? Just saying. In the end I decided that any au jus would be better than no au jus, and awarded my first macro-criterion 0. Congratulations, Luther College.

Miscellaneous: 5/10pts

  • Appearance: 0/2 pts
    I didn't really think that this looked much like a French dip, to be honest, hence my confusion when I saw my friend eating one. When I finally got my own, I was still dismayed at how it looked. The meat was all willy-nilly, the cheese was half off the sandwich, and there was a big fat pickle resting on the top of it. Needless to say it was no Karla Dobie when it came to looks.

  • Price: 2/3 pts
    How do I review price in a setting where I can eat as much as I want? Easy. I focus on quality, not quantity. The price for eating lunch at Luther is $7.00 if you pay in cash, but I obviously have a meal plan, so it costs me nothing (Thanks Dad!). This $7.00 can get you as much food as you want in the cafeteria (at least until 1:30). But is it any good? Well... kinda. The food isn't horrible by any means, but it sure isn't as good as your mom can make. Some days they have really good things in the entree lines, and sometimes they don't, it's just a matter of chance which one you get on a French dip day. If you are preforming a pilgrimage to come to Luther JUST to eat the French dip, I would subtract another point here. But as it stands, $7.00 for unlimited food and ambrosia (read: French dips) is not a bad price.

  • Restaurant: 1/2 pts
    What is there to say about the Luther cafeteria? It was a rather quiet time when I went, there being no more than 150 students in the eating area. There is a lovely view of the Upper Iowa River Valley though the large windows on three sides of the room. All in all its a pretty nice place to relax, eat lunch, and chat with a friend.

    If that's the case, then why did I take a point off, you may ask. Well, put simply, the student workers there suck. When I got my food and went to get a drink, there were absolutely no cups available. None. The cafeteria must have thousands of cups, but none were clean and out to be used. My friend and I saw a worker come out, see there were no cups, go to the washroom, and bring one cup out for himself. Wow, talk about diligence and effort. Don't strain yourself, man. It took them at least 10 minutes from the time I saw their were no cups until they finally brought them out. It's worker bees like this that make me thankful for the awesome waitress I had at Perkins (yes, I am still going on about that).

  • Extras 2/3 pts
    It is really hard to rate something like "extras" in an 'all you can eat' cafeteria setting. I suppose if I had wanted, I could have anything with my French dip. As it stands I had some pizza, country-fried steak, gravy, an apple, and milk. But as I stated with price... it's important to remember quality along with quantity. To be sure, there is a wide array of things to eat with your French dip... but it most of it isn't exactly scrumptious.

Final Tally: 23/50 pts

Another sub-par French dip. This French dip was almost the antithesis of the Perkins French dip; The bread was good, but not much else. The meat was cold, the cheese was greasy, and the au jus was lacking... literally! It was a fail of a French dip all around. Now I know, there is no expectation that a college cafeteria produce 5-star quality food. But this blog is aimed at those French dip connoisseurs who are looking for the next sandwich to sate their pallets, not at the barbaric masses who are satisfied with mediocre food. Unfortunately, the former category is not going to find what they are looking for here. While I have had some really good food in the Luther cafeteria, I have also had some bad food in the Luther cafeteria. Unfortunately, this rendition falls into the latter category, a shame considering the wonder that is a well-made French dip.

With this being the second sub-par sandwich reviewed in less than a week, I have come to long for the French dips I knew from my childhood, with their warm hoagie buns, succulent meat, melty cheese, and salty au jus. As Masons oft exclaim in public, "Is there no help for the widow's son?"

Attentive readers will be wondering, what am I going to do with that comment card that I grabbed? Simple. I'm going to let them know how much I did not appreciate them besmirching the good name of "French dip" with their abhorrent knock-off, that's what.

I look forward to their response.

Notes taken during review:

My lucky day. French dip in cafeteria. No au jus. WTF. Meat was cold, but well cooked and tasted pretty good. Cheese was cold too. the most basic Swiss cheese I've eaten. Onions are a nice touch. Sandwich was a bit small but can always get more. Bread was mostly correct, could have been warmer, maybe a little dry. Meat has a little fat, maybe a little too much. Swiss is a little too greasy. Not the vest [sic] French dip ever.

Until next time, faithful readers. And let us never forget the words of Patrick Henry: "Give me a sandwich worthy of the name 'French dip,' or give me death."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Update: The Perkins French Dip Review of November 1, 2009 and Jon Sanborn

At approximately 1:20 PM today, Tuesday, November 3rd, I called the number provided to me in the Perkins review comments by "Jon Sanborn." I reached the Perkins Customer Hotline or something to that effect, and asked if a Jon Sanborn worked there. Much to my surprise, the woman on the other end verified that he does indeed work there, although she told me that he was out at time. I left my name, number, and my reason for calling, and was told that Mr. Sanborn would call my back at a later time.

At 1:32 PM, I received a call from Mr. Sanborn, and had a very pleasant chat with him. What follows is the story that Jon told me, of how he found my blog and the harrowing epic of how my French dip came to look more like a grilled cheese:

Apparently on Monday mornings his boss in Minneapolis does internet searches for Perkins reviews, and happened to stumble on my humble blog. She showed it to Mr. Sanborn, who read my review and was shocked at what he saw. He too was baffled at the bread that I received, and his first thought was that maybe the waitress had written my order down wrong and somehow I had been given a roast beef sandwich or some such. But he soon realized that I was given everything indicative of a French dip except the bread. Mr. Sanborn called the restaurant and was told by the kitchen that they were out of the proper bread required for French dips all Sunday. What was supposed to happen is the waitress was suppose to inform me that they were out of hoagie bread and ask me if I still wanted a French dip and if so what kind of bread I wanted with it. This obviously did not happen, and there must have been a miscommunication somewhere along the line. He reiterated again and again that this whole situation was unacceptable and should never have happened. I would like to say that I hope my waitress was not at fault, as she was awesome. Just saying.

Mr. Sanborn told me that I should have informed a manager of my displeasure, but what I wanted was to review the John Q. Public Perkins French dip experience, the French dip anyone would receive at this establishment, not the candy-ass "my bread isn't righhhhht" French dip. As it seems that the planets and stars aligned perfectly for this restaurant not to have the correct bread, and not it just being a special way that this location makes French dips, the review I wrote was probably not indicative of the experience someone would have going even today. One should take that into consideration when reading the review in question.

Mr. Sanborn was apologetic for what had happened and wanted to make it up to me. So he told me that he would mail me a Perkins gift certificate! Please realize, Perkins found me out to make this situation right, I did not complain to them. If this indicative of how their franchise is run, all I can say is, "Thank you, Perkins, for putting the customer first." About how to use my compensation, fret not faithful readers, this gift certificate will only go back into purchasing more French dips for ingestion and judging, as I wish not to profit from the deeds I undertake selflessly reviewing everyone's favorite sandwiches of perfect harmony.

I informed Mr. Sanborn that in late January I would be in Madison again, and that I would love to review the same Perkins' French dip again. He told me that he doesn't really care what I do with my blog, just that he wants me to be happy. If any of his superiors are reading this blog, no words better summarize this man's commitment to his customers than those uttered by the centurion during Jesus crucifixion: "Truly, this man was the Son of great customer service." (Mark 15:39)

Well, after such a pleasant chat with the man, and considering the kindness Perkins has shown me in the past, nothing would make me happier than returning to the Perkins on University Ave in Madison and re-reviewing their French dip, and this time it will hopefully earn a score that Jon and I both know it deserves!

Look for my re-review of Perkins coming in the end on January. Until then, I will continue to scour the globe for great French dips, and bring my findings back to you, French dip connoisseurs of the world!

Monday, November 2, 2009


I have reached 10 followers!

I just want to take a moment to thank everyone for helping me achieve this monumental milestone in blogdom. It is because of you that this blog is the huge success that it is today. Fear not, for your support will not result in an enlarged ego and review complacency, but instead will result in renewed vigor to bring you the best French dip reviews possible.

The First 10: