Even though I’ve made a career out of hating on Brooklyn in favor of Queens, my roots lie in the County of Kings where parents grew up. Perhaps my DNA makes me a sucker for the borough’s old-school neighborhoods and their culinary institutions. Today’s post is not about a certain antediluvian steakhouse in Williamsburg, but a rather another purveyor of meaty marvels: Roll ’n Roaster, a 50 year-old establishment that built its reputation on a rather sumptuous roast beef sandwich.
I was two years old in 1970 when Buddy Lamonica founded the Sheepshead Bay roast beef sandwich specialist whose slogan “We’re not so fast, Roll ’n Roaster,” became a staple of New York City late night TV in the 1970s. I didn’t grow up eating Lamonica’s creation—a glorious sandwich of thinly shaved roast beef drenched with gravy and topped with cheese sauce—that one of the restaurants many, many signs touts as “PERFECTION ON A ROLL,” but I wish I had. Instead we had Roy Rogers Roast Beef with horsey sauce. Imagine the greatness I would have achieved had I cut my teeth on Roll ’n Roaster instead of Roy’s!
“Oh, they’re fucking iconic,” says Brooklyn born food personality Allison Robicelli who was lucky enough to grow up on R&R. “As Brooklyn as Junior’s or Luger’s. Maybe more so, since the Manhattan cocks haven’t spoiled it.”
Yesterday I had what is perhaps my third Roll ’n Roaster sandwich. Topped with raw onions and the restaurant’s signature “cheez” it was a glorious hot mess, all on a homemade roll. My buddy and I also got a side of extra gravy and corn nuggets. It’s an order I know Robicelli would approve.
“I haven’t been back to Brooklyn in over a year and I’m thinking of driving up right now just for this,” Robicelli, who shares the same August 1 birthday with me and food journalism luminaries Kat Kinsman and Matt Gross said. Howzabout we all meet there Saturday night?
Roll ‘n Roaster, 901 Emmons Ave., Sheepshead Bay, 718-769-6000