For any of you that clicked on this link hoping to find a tawdry Good Will Hunting clip of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Minnie Driver playing an erotic game of “how do you like them apples”, sorry that’s not the kinda threesome I’m writing about. Although if done right, this will leave your fingers a little sticky, your face messy, and if you hit the right spot, it might just leave you with the same happy ending. But today, I'm writing about the North Shore Beef. Ordered 3 Way, it's a deliciously seasoned, thinly sliced roast beef sandwich cooked to a delicate pink. With American Cheese on the bottom, it has a slathering of mayonnaise and a cascade of James River BBQ Sauce, on a nicely griddled bun. This is a messy meal meant to be eaten by people looking to get messy.
Where it All Started
The roast beef sandwich was introduced to the North Shore of Massachusetts in 1951, by happenstance, when the owners of Kelly’s, a hot dog shack in the coastal town of Revere, rescued three roast beefs from a nearby wedding buffet they were moonlighting at. Rather than let them go to waste, they served sandwiches with mounds of the sliced meat from their restaurant window. After selling out in less than an hour, Kelly’s knew they stumbled upon greatness and in the process unintentionally changed the North Shore culinary scene forever. Like wildfire, other “beef houses” started popping up in towns like Peabody, Beverly and Lynn specializing in "slinging beefs".
But it was Bill & Bob's in Salem that added the final ingredient making it what it is today when they introduced James River Barbeque to the mix. I'm not exactly sure the genesis of this condiment nor do I understand its fierce brand loyalty. Don't get me wrong, it tastes good, but nothing that really differentiates it from any other run-of-the-mill BBQ sauces imho. Nowadays though, it's a cardinal sin to eat a beef without it and honestly it works. Substitutes are not accepted by this rag tag legion of North Shore Beef Eaters.
Beefs, Shamrocks & Shenanigans
I had to Google "rag tag" to make sure I wasn't being overly critical, because I know you can't judge an entire society by a few, but when a "few" equates to over 33,000 strong like the North Shore Beefs Facebook page, it's not a stereotype, it's a reality. In 2018, while nursing a hangover, Andy Ferg, a native of North Shore, hatched the idea of starting a page dedicated to reviewing his favorite sandwich. At first it was kind of a joke, but it quickly grew into a phenomenon. It's now the moteliest crew of unapologetically passionate, vulgar and entertaining food reviewers you'll ever meet. They are at least five guys that could all be Everlast from House of Pain at various ages of his life. Ray Donavan sounding manly men with mayo drenched beards and chunks of meat hanging from their face as they rate the sandwich from the front seat of a car. Then there are the cute, tatted chicks, ladies like Kay Hathaway with a mouth that might make a sailor say damn, and dude named Jumptown that yells his name and smashes a door open every time he walks into a joint. There's even a seemingly normal fella that gives each review while holding a fucking unicorn head on a stick. This entertaining Barnum and Beefy Circus of food connoisseurs all have one thing in common though, they love their North Shore foodigenous!
Fast forward a few years later and Andy is now a bit of a local Social Media celebrity with his own podcast. Meanwhile his followers are like Warhol's factory, all with unique personalities worthy of their own Food Network show. They speak in their own language of acronyms like B2B = Beef 2 Bun, FOB = Flavor of Beef and a murder scene means make sure to grab extra napkins. And they are all happy to tell you Go F&$k Yourself after each review. It's a wicked fun page to troll and trust me, they know their food, so make sure you check out this page prior to making this worthwhile trek. Oh, if any of you North Shore Beefers are reading this and are offended, my sincere apologies and GFY!
How Should I Order One?
I just told you about the 3 way, but you can also add horsey sauce to make it a 4 way or add an onion ring for an extra crunch. Beefs come in different sizes; junior, regular and super, with the later usually served on an onion roll. Purists may frown at this, but my first experience was "The Yoli" from Jamie's in Peabody. Quick aside: the town is pronounced "pee b'dee" to save you some embarrassment. The Yoli is a 3 Way substituting house made roasted garlic aioli for the mayo. The first bite was amazing with most of it making my mouth, some on my cheek. The moist meat was seasoned perfectly, and the heat of the beef created a mayo and bbq molten that dripped from the bun. It's hard to imagine I'll find a better beef but trust me I'm going to try.
This year Jamie's made North Shore Beefs' March Beef Madness Final 4 with Bella's in North Andover besting Tessi's in Tewksbury as the ultimate champion out of a field of 64 shops. In reality each town has their own champion and I encourage you to try as many as you can. Who knows, maybe I'll see you on Facebook!