Every region of the US has it’s list of specialty foods, and New England is no exception. We all know about the New England style hot dog roll, the Lobster Roll, the clam strip, and Boston baked beans. Slightly less well-known is the area’s love of the roast beef sandwich, with several layers of steaming, rare roast beef piled upon a heavy onion roll, preferably with some sort of horseradish condiment. Think Arby’s, but done with actual meat and decent buns.
The north Boston area (the North Shore, in particular), is rife with various roast beef sandwich shops, ranging from the regional chains (Kelly’s Roast Beef) to several other establishments, such as Liberty Bell. Royal’s, Bill and Bob’s, Beachmont. I’ll be honest, I’ve not done a full tour of these, but I’ve been to Kelly’s several times and Bill and Bob’s once, and I’ve generally been very happy.
But several places that review these little roast beef stores all mentioned one place in particular as standing out amongst the rest: Billy’s Famous Roast Beef in Wakefield, MA. So on a recent trip to the north Boston metro area, we decided to stop in an try them out.
Located right on the line between Melrose and Wakefield, it’s a small family-run establishment with a simple ordering counter and a line of booths. The menu is primarily roast beef sandwiches, fried seafood, and your basic sides (fries, onion rings, etc). Carol and I both opted for a “Super Beef” with horseradish, and split a side of fries. We watched them make the entire sandwich, pulling a roast from a holding oven, slicing it to order, toasting the buns, and assembling the sandwich.
The beef was very nicely roasted and juicy. I like it a titch rarer, but this wasn’t overcooked by any stretch, and was nicely pink. It was sliced very, very thinly, and piled on generously, resulting in all sorts of beefy goodness piled up on a bun. The bun itself? Basic onion rolls, but fresh, soft, and nicely toasted, which kept the bun from getting completely destroyed by the juicy beef.
Overall, I’d give this a 9/10 on my beef sandwich scale, and certainly wouldn’t mind coming back, this place has definitely earned it’s reputation for beef sandwiches.
The fries, however, are worth discussing. Billy’s suffers from what I call “seafood funk”, a common ailment of many a North Shore eatery. The restaurant itself smells of overcooked clam strips right as you come in the door, and the clam strips, fries, and onion rings are all cooked in the same deep fat frier. In general, this isn’t a problem, but at Billy’s I could tell that my french fries were cooked in the same oil as the clams and onion rings, since they tasted faintly of both. A shame, since it took what otherwise would’ve been good fries and downgraded them to, well, “meh.”
So, I heartily recommend Billy’s for a Roast Beef sandwich. I’d pass on the sides, however.