Southern California prides itself on being the originator of a great many things in the food world, from cheeseburgers to the entirety of America’s fast food culture. In Los Angeles proper, two competing eateries — Philippe’s and Cole’s, respectively — each claim to have invented the iconic French dip, the meaty French roll sandwich that’s been doused in roasting pan juices.
So who’s right in the great L.A. sandwich debate? Thrillist believes it has an answer, laying out the claims for both contenders (along with a few humorous asides). On the pro-Philippe’s angle, the Thrillist team dusted off a 1951 LA Times article with the original 1908 owner Philippe Mathieu. He claims, as per one of the more widely told versions of the origin of the sandwich, to have made it on a lark for a municipal worker, with the sandwich immediately becoming a hit with other customers afterwards.
Except there’s more: apparently around the turn of the 1900’s a ‘French dip’ was actually a fashion term, says Thrillist, a dropped-waist style on a dress that was popular at the time and widely known via advertisements. And with the French-born Mathieu making these early roasted pork sandwiches that were dipped in further fattening gravy, the argument to be made is that the name stuck as a sort of double entendre, using the man's heritage and the robust sandwiches to play off a commonly-known term. It also brings up the question: Why would Cole’s create a sandwich called the French dip, with no real connection to the name itself?
Furthermore, Thrillist argues that no mentions of the French dip sandwich, which first began appearing in print in the 1930’s, exist tying Cole’s to the creation until well after the link between Philippe’s and the dip had long been established. In fact, the only thing tying Cole’s to the notion that someone within their ranks actually invented the sandwich a decade before Philippe’s is conjecture and oral history, passed down from new owner to new owner. As for documentation or first-hand interview accounts from back in the day? Well, there don’t really seem to be any.
And so, as the city has known in its hearts all along, it seems that Philippe’s (also known as Philippe The Original) is indeed the progenitor of the French dip sandwich, in all its simplistic and delicious glory. You are now free to go about your day, no longer carrying the burden of doubt.