Running a restaurant that offers essentially one product is a high-wire act: it can be breathtaking, but you're working without a net, and if you falter . . . Food nerds like me root heartily for such places, having endured too many restaurants with long menus and no memorable dishes. We cheer the banh mi stands, hot-dog carts, ramen counters and grilled-cheese trucks. Roast Beast, a cash-only joint in a Packard's Corner basement, does a North Shore–style roast-beef sandwich — one of those rare foods upon which New Englanders can lay a unique claim — and not much else. Fortunately, within their tiny niche, they're keeping both feet on the wire nicely.
Kelly's on Revere Beach originated the model in the '50s: season a big hunk of top round, slow-roast it rare to medium-rare, slice it thin, pile it high on a soft roll, and add fixings like tomato-based barbecue sauce, American cheese, maybe some prepared horseradish. Roast Beast hews to this standard closely. The large ($7) is differentiated from the regular ($5) only by a big-big pile of roast beef versus just a big one. The roll — onion, deli, or wheat — is from Piantedosi, a local wholesale bakery that is a cut above national supermarket brands. The liquid-smoke-accented, house-made "Secret Beast Sauce" is better than mass-market bottled products. The optional cheese slice (25 cents) has been upgraded to pepper jack or Swiss. Bottom line: it's a terrific sandwich of its kind, appropriately dominated by the flavor and texture of the cool, tender beef. As a bonus, accompanying pickle chips from Alabama's Wickles Pickles are fabulous: at once garlicky, fiery, and sweet. Beef-eschewers can opt for Boar's Head roast turkey ($5/regular; $7/large), in which case honey Dijon or chipotle mayo might be more suitable condiments.
The usual sub-shop accompaniments abide: bags of chips and pretzels ($1), soft drinks ($1–$2), cookies and Yummy Mummy Brownie Bites ($1.25–$2). The mostly bare walls, unflattering lighting, and six counter seats in this former head shop won't encourage lingering. But you will remember the earnest hospitality of the two young gents running the place, the delectable smell of roasting beef as you enter, and the fact that within its narrow, nostalgia-driven furrow, that sandwich is excellent — never mind the freakish dissenters who might crave a firmer roll of the sort the nearby Clear Flour Bread bakes. One product, executed as well and canonically as Roast Beast's roast-beef sandwich, is entirely and exactly what a one-product restaurant needs to thrive.
Roast Beast, located at 1080 Comm Ave in Allston, is open Monday–Saturday, 12–7 pm. Call 617.877.8690