I have to admit, given my somewhat jaded culinary standards and sensibilities that have developed over 15 years of “Lick the Plate,” it takes something really special to attach a title like “king” to its creator.
But seriously, after one bite of the roast beef sandwich from James Jones, chef and owner of Big Jim’s New England Style Roast Beef, I looked up from the beautiful pile of beef before me at The Leucadian Bar, gazed out towards the Big Jim’s rig parked on Coast Highway 101, and proclaimed loudly, “You are the king of roast beef and I worship the ground you walk on!”
This whole experience was brought on by a story about Boston-area natives living in Los Angeles and other faraway places, making the drive down to get some of this amazing roast beef. Any time I hear stories like that I take notice. And lucky for me, Big Jim’s was parked right down the street outside of The Leucadian Bar.
Big Jim’s is not a food truck, more like a van with a tent attached to the back and everything needed to create this masterpiece of a sandwich.
But before we get into the details of how this pile of beefy goodness is created, here is a little backstory on its origins. Given the name, you are correct in assuming a New England heritage.
As the story goes, a joint called Kelly’s Beef Shop had a wedding catering gig that canceled and left them with a whole lot of extra prime rib. So, they shaved it up thin on sandwiches and the rest is history. There is a special sauce that is essential, and it’s called James River BBQ Sauce which proudly proclaims on its Facebook page, “The sauce that made the North Shore of Boston BEEF CRAZY!”
After that, the sandwich spread like wildfire throughout the Boston area and became a staple in many of the sub and pizza joints around town along with many specifically dedicated to variations of Kelly’s original.
James Jones grew up in Newbury, Massachusetts, and goes way back, having been established in 1635. Being just definitely within that radius where his local joints included the beef sandwich. Newbury is a coastal port town with a heavy emphasis on local seafood about a 45-minute drive north of Boston.
As a teenager, Jones’ first job was washing dishes at Scandia, an American bistro where he discovered he could make good money and eat better food than what was coming out of the kitchen at home. Jones bounced around culinary gigs in Massachusetts, honing his kitchen chops to a point to be able to make a good living at it. Five years ago, San Diego beckoned, and he made the move west.
Jones landed at a Hawaiian BBQ joint in San Diego before moving on to Cloak and Petal, a happening sushi spot in Little Italy, where he expanded his skills to making sushi under executive chef James Evans. A subsequent move to Mammoth was cut short by the pandemic and when the resort shut down, Jones headed back to San Diego to contemplate his next move.
Jones noticed a professional-grade meat slicer for sale on Offer Up that brought back the memories of the roast beef sandwiches of his youth. Thus, the concept for Big Jim’s was born. Shortly after testing began, he had the recipe perfected. And while he could not share exact details, it goes something like this:
A lightly seasoned top round roast is cooked to medium-rare for 12 hours at 133 degrees with a water bath, the circulating moist air resulting in a perfectly tender, yet firm enough to hold up to a slicer without shredding. It’s a fine line and one that, based on my experience with his beef, Jones has mastered to perfection.
Jones slices that perfectly tender beef thin and stacks it high on a fresh onion roll, with a slice of American cheese, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce and that’s it. If you want to come across as a Massachusetts local, order it by saying, “Gimme a super beef three-way” and you will gain some instant credibility.
Jones secured the permits and licenses needed to start offering local delivery and alley pickup in his neighborhood to test the concept and the response was overwhelming. Pop-ups were next and now his beef is in such high demand that Jones can’t keep up with it.
Regular stops include the Oceanside Farmers Market, Leucadian, Pour House in North Park, and Thrusters in Pacific Beach, and Bay City Brewery before games and concerts at the Sports Arena. Also, you might catch James helping out behind the sushi counter at Kai Ola in Leucadia.
Find Big Jim’s and learn more at www.bigjimsroastbeef.com