Jen: Our friend that thought of the idea for this blog, Marisa, was a vegetarian up until about a year ago. Trusting our adventurous, novelty seeking palates, she asked us to go with her and try her first roast beef ever at the recently debuted Top Round Roast Beef, a 1950’s style drive-in diner meant to evoke Arby’s and conceived by the chefs behind 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza and the Asian fusion, fine dining Red Medicine (both part of the Umami restaurant group). I checked out the website and was charmed by the mid-century graphics, complete with little atomic starbursts. I almost hyperventilated when I saw that they serve FROZEN CUSTARD (!!!!!!!), which, like the apple cider donuts mentioned in our littlefork post, is another food mostly unavailable in these parts.
The dining experience is fast food style with a dash of bourgeois irony—visible in the iPad register and young, fashionable diners—and minus the creepy chemical ingredients. The sandwiches came out wrapped in foil-sided paper, just like at Arby’s. We started with curly fries, which are fried in “100% beef fat,” though I was too disappointed with how thin they were (I like my fries thicker and a little soggy with oil) to notice any perceptible taste difference from typical fries done in peanut oil. Marisa and I shared a “Beef on Weck,” with “atomic horseradish, caraway & sea salt bun.” The bun was nice and soft, soaking up the au jus sauce that comes standard on all their sandwiches (6 varieties to choose from, all $6.45 and under!). The caraway seeds and sea salt added a pleasantly contrasting texture and flavor to the sandwich. The meat was fine, I think. Not bad, just not very memorable. We also ordered the gravy fries with “beef drippings and ends.” It sounded good on the menu, but it turned out to be just fries covered with a gross, gloopy brown sludge–maybe too much corn starch or roux to thicken the gravy?
After finishing my sandwich I went back up to the counter to order my frozen custard. They have an extensive menu with different toppings that you can add in to make combination sundaes, but for my first go around I wanted to taste it pure and simple. This was going to be my very first FROZEN CUSTARD experience…I had no idea what to expect…
Basically, true to form so far and falling in line with the fast food experience, the frozen custard (which was hand-scooped from the freezer like ice cream) tasted exactly like the famous soft serve from the golden arches, but denser and with more flavor. Top Round offers the fast food experience without the malignant corporate atmosphere, so we’ll be heading back to try the other sandwiches and frozen custard combos.
David: I’ve always had a love for a thinly sliced roast beef sandwich served hot on a sesame bun. And until now there really was only one place to get a sandwich like that: Arby’s. When i heard the guys from 800 degrees and Red Medicine (both places worth checking out) had created an Arby’s-like sandwich shop i knew i had to give it a go.
Whenever Arby’s comes up i always get the same response questioning the source and quality of the mystery meat. I have no idea if they really do liquefy their meat and i truly don’t care. I’m happy to indulge once a year on some random road trip stop and put that gelatinous substance in my body. So I decided to judge Top Round with one goal….Is it better than Arby’s?
Driving up it felt like a fast food joint that had been there for years, as opposed to opening just the week before. It fits right in with the other late night cheap eats (mostly Mexican food) on LaBrea except with this place you don’t have to second-guess the meat. It has seating both indoor and out and you can even order outside through a separate window. The vibe is fresh and welcoming. Perfect for a family outing or a casual dinner with friends. I can’t say either is true about Arby’s. I stuck to the drive-thru and ate it by myself at home.
We browsed the menu containing six roast beef sandwiches. I was stuck between the Beef & Cheese (Homemade “Wizz,” Round Sauce, Onion Bun) and the Black & Blue (Black Pepper, Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onion, Sesame Bun). I went with the latter. The sandwich itself is good, especially the quality. The beef is sliced at precisely the right gauge. It’s pink all the way through and it’s undoubtedly fresh. The toppings were maybe a little reserved… in my opinion they could have packed more of a punch. Same feelings with the meat itself; i asked for a side of Au Jus sauce to give it an extra bit of flavor. Good sandwich, but I missed my Arby’s sauce, whatever it is.
I got a side of the Gravy fries served wet with beef drippings and ends. They were good but also tried the curly fries, which were better (but still not as good as Arby’s).
They also have one of those digital coke machines where you can choose from 127 different coke product flavors (and also opt for a float!). Arby’s has a standard 8 flavor Coke machine.
The fact that i am holding Arby’s on a pedestal may be a little bizarre. I have high regard for the fast food in the ten gallon hat. And i still do prefer their roast beef to its gourmet competitor. But its glory days are long gone with the disappearance of the 5 roast beef sandwiches for $5 and the Big Montana Sandwich from the menu. And Top Round is just getting started. So stop by and judge for yourself. That is if you even like Arby’s. Am I alone on my Arby’s loving island?