Sunday, October 05, 2008

The French dip sandwich, turns 100 this year

Philippe's, home of the French dip sandwich, turns 100 this year, and for much of the last century local historians and foodies have been arguing over one question: How was the dish created?

Was it the brainstorm of a customer who didn't want to see the juice in the roast pan go to waste? Was it an accident -- a server dropped a dry sandwich into the pan and found that the patron liked the result? Or was it conceived at Cole's, a rival downtown eatery, for a gent who had sore gums?

You can't go back in time to ask Philippe "Frenchy" Mathieu, the founder of Philippe's. But you can journey to that era, price-wise, on Monday when the North Alameda Street restaurant throws a centennial bash.

From 4 to 8 p.m., sandwiches (normally $5.35 to $6.50) will sell for 10 cents, and coffee (normally 9 cents) will be reduced to a nickel. (Tips of more than 20% for the servers might be in order this day.)

KCET-TV Channel 28 storyteller Huell Howser will emcee the show, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other politicos will speechify, the USC band will march through, and Roger "the Peanut Man" Owens of Dodger Stadium will toss bags of goobers to hopefully attentive folks waiting in line.

Also on hand will be 64-year-old Philippe Guilhem of Alva, Okla., grandson of founder Mathieu. And he knows the story of the birth of the French dip from his namesake.

Guilhem, who was located several months ago through a chance meeting at an art gallery between his relatives and those of the current owners of Philippe's, tells it this way:

"One day a fireman complained that his roll was stale. It was probably a Monday and the roll was a leftover from the weekend. My grandfather was a thrifty person. He said, 'Give me the damn thing back.' He dipped it in the juices and said, 'You happy now?' "

The fireman was happy.

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