Philippe stands test of time

AUTHENTIC FLAVOR—Philipe's French Dipped lamb sandwich is best topped off with a slice of lemon meringue. CN/Victor Borja

By Victor Borja

Philippe the Original is one of the oldest and well known restaurants in all of Southern California, established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu himself.

Mathieu claimed to have been the creator of the “French Dipped Sandwich.” In 1918, he cut a French roll and inadvertently dropped it into the roasting pan filled with juices still hot from the oven. The patron said he would take the sandwich anyway and returned the next day with friends asking for some dipped sandwiches, so it goes. The reason behind the “French Dipped” name is lost to history. However, the restaurant is deemed the true originator.

This local eatery is located one block north of Union Station. The restaurant gets many customers in the lunchtime rush hour which makes great use of the cafeteria-style long display counter with ten servers, known as “Carvers,” that tend to the publics’ French Dipped sandwich needs. They prepare the whole meal, serve salads or soup, give a customer coffee or a glass of wine and add it all up. The service is fast.

Philippe’s “French Dipped Sandwich” is the specialty and consists of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham. Swiss, Monterey Jack, or Bleu cheese may be added for a few pennies extra.

The restaurant is said to prepare about 40 gallons of their own hot mustard twice weekly. The French mustard is a great dipping sauce that compliments the sandwich. The customers who cannot get enough of it may purchase it by the jar at the front candy counter.

To top off a hearty meal diners may try one of Philippe’s desserts. The restaurant has a variety of cream or fruit filled pies, all of which are made daily. They also offer ice cream, New York style cheese cake, baked apples, tapioca and fresh fruit.

The restaurant serves breakfast from 6 to 10:30 a.m. daily. Some of their menu items include eggs, bacon, ham, corned beef and fried potatoes. They offer their own homemade salsa for the egg dishes. They stress their freshly baked goods in time for breakfast, consisting of cinnamon streusel coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, donuts and muffins.

Harry, Dave and Frank Martin purchased Philippe’s from Mathieu in 1927. They operated the restaurant 24/7 until World War II. The business had a few pitfalls during the Great Depression in 1929. However, through perseverance and dedication, the business grew steadily. In 1951, Philippe’s was forced to move due to the then new Hollywood-Santa Ana 101 freeway and relocated to its present location. The restaurant sure has a story to tell about American history, it’s been around for more than a century now.

Over at Philippe’s they believe not much has changed for them, in terms of service, what it is now is what it was a century ago. There are ceiling fans, neon signs, sawdust on the floor, booths and wooden tables with stools. The atmosphere of the restaurant is very family orientated. There are also press clippings and civic citations spruced around the walls, and customers can weigh themselves on what they swear is the same scale used by Norman Rockwell of the Saturday Evening Post.

Philippe the Original is located on 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles. The restaurant has quite a bit of Los Angeles history and from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. customers can be a part of it. Their phone number is (213) 628-3781.

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