6.02.2011

The Original Kelly's Roast Beef


The other day, I sat on a bench at Revere Beach with a Kelly's Roast Beef Sandwich in my lap. The sky was painted a happy shade of blue and the briny smell of the ocean hung thickly in the air. The wind played with my hair and the sea gulls that had gathered on the concrete wall, were staring and looked like they wanted to pick a fight with me. In between bites of sandwich, I was watching the waves crash in and rush back out. My skin was being tickled by the sun. I was happy.

While enjoying my lunch, I got to thinking about food and what makes something "good" versus "average" versus "not good".The above paragraph is how I remember that moment. I was relaxed and aside from the potential threat of a seagull fight, all worry and cares seemed miles away. I was at the beach, albeit not the prettiest beach in the world, but still a beach. People were laughing around me, playing and having fun. The sandwich only plays a small role in my memory of that day, but it's still there and I remember it favorably. Not because it was particularly good (it wasn't) but because I was happily sitting on a bench at the beach at the start of the summer, eating something that is a local food icon. But again, I want to say that the sandwich itself wasn't that great. The roast beef was over cooked with not so much as a blushy trace of pink that makes a good roast beef sandwich, well, good. A lackluster and watery barbecue sauce was lightly drizzled over the meat, which was resting on top of a bed of nothing-special, straight from the jar pickles. The bun was the best part, hearty and dark and studded with lots of bright sesame seeds.

I can't help but question that if I hadn't been enjoying that moment as much as I was, would I have liked the sandwich as much? Would I think back on it so fondly? Or is my experience a product of marketing? Everyone who grew up here as well as most who are transplants to the area know about Kelly's. Heck, it even earns a shout out in my favorite movie, Good Will Hunting. But is it really that good or do people think it's better because they have good memories of eating a Kelly's Roast Beef sandwich when they went to Revere Beach as a kid? Either way, it brings up a good question: how much factors into what you think of a dining experience? If the ambiance is great, does that make the food taste better? If you're on an awful date with someone who's a jerk, tells the worst jokes on the planet and won't shut up, do you think the same way about a meal than if you had gone with a group of your best friends? Additionally, if you hear a lot of buzz about a place and everyone raves about it non-stop (ehem, 5 Napkin) does that sway your opinion of the food? Just some food for thought, I suppose.

Kelly's Roast Beef on Urbanspoon

12 comments:

Meghan@travelwinedine said...

I went there a few times when I first moved to Boston. Though not the prettiest area, it is still so fun to eat summery food by the water! The food isn't the best, though I have to say that their onion rings are quite good. I feel like, whether at Kelly's or just at the beach eating a simple sandwich, sea air makes food taste better!

Jen said...

Since I work near there, we go a lot during the summer for lunch. Getting out of the office to eat lunch by the beach is awesome and I'm pretty sure cardboard would taste good in that circumstance. But I do agree, the sandwich is just ok.

Ché @ Knight at the Restaurant said...

I think atmosphere totally makes a difference. I like to think that there are two types of restaurants: the first type is a place you go to have dinner (ambiance, company and the experience come before the food, bonus if the food tastes good); the second type is a place you go to EAT (the focus of going there IS the food - you go there for the sole purpose of trying the cuisine).

Regardless, sounds like a really nice day. Nothing beats an impromptu picnic by the water.

dan said...

As Anthony Bourdain always says, The best meals of your life are generally eaten barefoot.

I DO have to mention though, I feel like you and "burger boy" like to downgrade any burger that has a lot of hype as you seem to have alluded to in your last sentence there ;)

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

Dan, I don't like to downgrade something just because its got a lot of hype. How often does anything ever live up to its hype? Regina's is the only thing that comes to mind recently. Lots of hype and killer pizza. I think that's the problem with a lot of hype around food, it rarely lives up to it.

Dan said...

Hmm, maybe "like" was the wrong word... How about you "tend" to downgrade burgers with a lot of hype? that sounds better.

I really enjoyed my 5 napkin burger, but I went in with no pretense. In fact I've eaten ever burger since with a sigh.

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

I don't think my reviews downgrade items because a place has hype. I think often times there's so much hype about something and usually the meal doesn't live up to it. I'm glad you had a good 5N burger experience but I didn't like burger and for all the hype, I did expect more.

burgerboy said...

I don't think it matters ultimately; moreover I believe hype is of note, but it doesn't affect the taste. 5 Napkin was a disappointment because I didn't like it all that much, not because everyone else did. The Craigie and Toro burgers, as two examples, absolutely lived up to the hype, so it can be done.

Megan said...

I think good and not good mean different things to different people. I would agree with you that the roast beef is overcooked... but there are people like my fiance who won't eat pink roast beef and live for the more cooked stuff. (Works out so well when I make any sort of steak at home and can give him the more-done ends!)

Just because something is hyped doesn't mean you should or shouldn't like it. It's important to go and figure out if you like it for yourself... not because someone tells you too. It doesn't have to be your favorite thing because it's someone else's thing. Everyone has different tastes and preferences. For example, you and I will probably never consider the same burger the best burger because I'd rather have a soft sesame seed bun than brioche (and I think you prefer brioche).

I do agree that sometimes who you go with or what the atmosphere is like can make a difference, but there have been other times where I've really enjoyed the food somewhere but had terrible service but am able to separate the two.

P.S. Personally, my 5 Napkin burger was great. I read the complaints other people had about too much aioli, etc., but the day I was there and the burger I had didn't have those issues.

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

Totally agree with you Megan, something being "good" or "not good" is subjective and that people need to go and try for themselves and make their own calls on whether or not something is good or not good to them, that's really the whole point of my post.

And I actually don't prefer brioche so maybe there's hope for us yet to find a good burger in common!

Anonymous said...

Are you a native Bostonian? Your usage of the word wicked is suspect. " wicked small" does not quite ring true. Sorry.

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

Hi Anonymous, I don't see why my usage of the word "wicked" is suspect to you and sorry it offends you. It's meant to be a play on the local vocab of my city. I was born in Western Mass, although I'm not sure I understand the relevance of your question.

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