Ever since childhood–perhaps going back as far back as Blimpie’s and Arby’s–I’ve loved roast beef sandwiches, plain and simple: that tender, succulent medium-rare to (preferably) well-done meat on a roll with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Compared to other deli meats such as ham and turkey, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than two weeks without downing roast beef for lunch.
I thought I knew everything about roast beef until a few years ago, when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of the Travel Channel series Man v. Food. The show’s premise is that host Adam Richman would visit “big food” eateries across the country and partake in food challenges. In one of his adventures, Richman visited a place in Gravesend, Brooklyn called Brennan and Carr, which has been around since 1938 and is primarily known for its hot roast beef sandwiches. What makes a Brennan and Carr roast beef sandwich unique is that you can request the meat and the bun together to be dipped or covered in a special beef broth. With a reaction similar to the first time I saw a Star Wars action figure at a toy store as a child, I was hooked and decided to dip my toe (sandwich?) into the South Brooklyn restaurant’s signature dish.
What initially kept me from going to Brennan and Carr after seeing that video was its location: When it came to public transportation–even if one already lives in Brooklyn like myself–to get there without a car, you need to take a subway down to Gravesend, and then a bus. It could take more than a hour if you’re traveling from the city. In fact, it seems a lot easier to go to Manhattan for that way overpriced corned beef sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. But Brennan and Carr has always been on my mind, and I vowed that one day, I would make the trek there. And that day finally came on a Sunday afternoon, when I took the N up to Avenue U and got on the B3 bus heading toward Bergen Beach. Fortunately it wasn’t hard to find the restaurant, since the bus stopped right in front of the place.
Compared to the other storefronts and buildings on the block, Brennan and Carr’s brick architecture looks like something out of Europe, down to the Guttenberg-like lettering on its sign. The old-world ambiance also extended inside with its wooden paneling and old prints on the wall. And adding to the quaint charm is the lack of pretentiousness: They have paper place mats with the menu on them, and drinks are served in paper cups instead of glasses. Plus, they only take cash. (If you don’t want table service, the place also has a take out window right outside).
Unlike most restaurants, Brennan and Carr’s bread and butter (pardon the pun) is essentially the roast beef sandwich, but the eatery also serves such bar-like fare as burgers (including the intense Gargiulo burger, as described in the video) and chicken tenders–as well as the usual appetizers like fries and onion rings. It’s a very limited yet simple menu, but that’s what makes the place so unique because of its minimalist, ‘just steak-and-potatoes’ mentality. If you go in there expecting to order just a salad (which they don’t serve, by the way), you should be escorted out.
Based on what I saw from Man v. Food, I wanted my roast beef sandwich ($5.80) the way that Adam Richman liked it–both the bread and bun in the broth. And that’s how it came out, to my satisfaction. Obviously as a result, the bread’s a bit soggy when you hold the sandwich and it’ll break up a bit. But it was delicious; the beef was a perfect combination of medium rare and well-done. The broth from the roast was very flavorful and aromatic. The onion rings ($4.20) were pretty good, too. Along with a Coke, it added up to a very decent and quick meal.
Given Brennan and Carr’s out-of-the-way location if you’re car-less–and the length of the commute–it’s gonna be hard for me to make regular visits, as they don’t deliver. Then again, it’ll just make the next visit that much more special. And it’s the perfect place for friends to gather for a good meal and to soak up the atmosphere–just like how that B & C’s roast beef sponges up the broth.
Brennan and Carr is located on 3432 Nostrand Ave.; (718) 646-9559; hours: Sun-Thu: 11am-1am; Fri-Sat: 11am-2am.
Directions: Take the N, Q, or F to Avenue U, and then a B3 bus heading towards Bergen Beach. Get off at Nostrand Avenue–the stop is right in front of the place.
For a menu with prices, check out Menupages.