Wednesday, February 8, 2023

North Shore Beefs, It’s All about the Three-Way

Big Jim’s North Shore Beef served at Poorhouse Brewing Company.

There are a few East Coast regions that feature a signature beef sandwich. Philly has the Cheese Steak, Chicago has its Italian Beef, and New England has the North Shore Roast Beef. Most people have tried a Cheese Steak, the most famous of the three.

A few have had the Windy City’s Italian Beef. Although this sandwich has gained popularity since the short series The Bear aired on HULU this past summer. This workplace drama features an Italian Beef shop in Chicago.  

The North Shore Roast Beef sandwich is probably the least known outside New England. 

What makes up a North Shore Beef? A beef sandwich starts with an onion roll, split, buttered, and griddled on a flat top until crisp and golden brown. This step is crucial as the crunch from the toasted roll is the only resistance this sandwich will give you; the rest melts in your mouth as you eat it. The bottom half of the roll receives a slice of white American cheese. Piled high on the cheese is a mountain of rare, thinly sliced, bordering-on shaved, warm roast beef. A deciding factor in determining a great beef sandwich is the beef to bun ratio (B2B). At this point, a purist would put on the top half of the onion roll and eat. I am not a purist, and in my humble opinion, it’s not a North Shore Beef Sandwich if it’s not a three-way. At this point in the story, plenty of New Englanders would disagree. 

The three-way scores the hat-trick needed to take your beef game into overtime. The cheese scores the first goal. Now we need to score two more for the tie. The second goal comes from a healthy slathering of James River BBQ Sauce. Then Cane’s thick mayonnaise scores the final point with a healthy spread on the top half of the onion roll. Simply find a way to fit it in your mouth for the win. 

Ken Clay at Poor House Brewing for the win.

How do you get a beef sandwich when the North Shore of Boston is over three thousand miles away? The answer is Big Jim’s Roast Beef. Big Jim hails from Newburyport, Massachusetts and his spot for Beef sandwiches growing up was Chic’s Roast Beef in Bradford. Jim is the real deal; he is a mobile superhero. Crafting the best damn North Shore Beefs outside of Massachusetts is his superpower. Jim also makes a damn good cheese steak, and I have had his version of the Italian Beef. Jim has mastered his craft; if he offers it up, you know it’s good. 

James Jones, of Big Jim’s Roast Beef holds and a perfectly cooked roast beef, next stop the slicer.

Big Jim’s sets up shop and slings beefs at the Poorhouse in North Park most Sundays. This small intimate spot on 30th Street brews some great beer and always has a colorful cast of people that come in to drink and watch a game on tv. 

The best time to enjoy Jim’s craftsmanship is when one of the New England teams is playing. Jim’s sandwiches and the game will draw in a motley crew of New Englanders that can’t be found elsewhere in town. I don’t know what I enjoy more: the customers’ banter or the pile of roast beef on that toasted onion roll. 

James River BBQ Sauce, locked and loaded for service.

Jim can also be found during hockey season at Bay City Brewery over by the Pechanga Arena, where the San Diego Gulls play. He slices beef and makes sandwiches there before Gulls games. I have not visited Jim there, but I can only imagine he draws a fair amount of New Englanders and local “beefers” on their way to watch hockey. 

BBQ sauce along with white American cheese and mayo make up the three-way.

Unfortunately, unless you own a professional slicer, this is not a sandwich you can easily duplicate at home. Put this sandwich on your list of things to try in 2023. The best way to find Big Jim’s is to follow him on Instagram. Take a road trip to where the beef is; I just might see you there.

Chris Conlon, a Coronado resident and New Englander brought this home for me from a recent trip back East. Nick’s is in North Beverly, Massachusetts.

Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde Van Arsdall
Clyde is a trained chef that has worked in hospitality for nearly 40 years. In addition to cooking, he is a freelance food writer and storyteller. Clyde is a third-generation Coronado local, CHS graduate, and father of three. He owns and operates Olive Avenue Supper Club, a boutique catering company specializing in culinary experiences. You can follow his culinary journey on Instagram @oliveavenuesupper.Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]