About a million years ago, when I was waitressing my way through college, I worked at a prime rib house. The name of the restaurant sounded more like a strip club than a steak joint -- I kid you not, it was The Gentleman's Choice. We were known for our prime cuts of beef plus a very decent bar. Our signature dish was, obviously, prime rib. But those thick slabs of beef were always a bit of a turn off for me. I was happy to avoid the meat overload with au jus and a baked potato side dish in favor of the simpler steak sandwich. While the prime rib plates seemed excessive for my tastes, the sandwich offered great beef flavor but in a crusty bun (and I really love the crunch). Since that time, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for a good steak sandwich.
Now although the sandwich from The Gentleman's Choice is my Platonic ideal, I can very rarely even try to duplicate it as the main ingredient is thinly sliced prime rib -- something only occasionally available at my house the day after Christmas. I'm also not one to make roast beef very often (actually, never). So a couple of years ago, after watching a Barefoot Contessa episode where Ina Garten roasted an enormous (and very expensive) filet of beef (which is essentially one large filet mignon) for her steak sandwich lunch, I went to the butcher feeling completely depressed. I wanted my own hearty steak sandwich, but knew that tenderloin and prime rib decadence wasn't in the cards for me as I didn't have Ina's budget. After chatting with the butcher about my dilemma, he came up with a solution: cube steak.
Yes, this 1950s staple is my route to affordable steak sandwich success. Made from either the top or bottom round, cube steak undergoes a serious pounding that helps tenderize it into submission. So, although you start off with a chewier piece of meat than the upmarket prime rib roast or tenderloin, you end up with something that works beautifully when pressed into a bun. As a busy mom, I also love that this dish takes less than 10 minutes to make.