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A couple years ago, Brett Martin wrote "The FedEx Meal Plan" for GQ, wherein - to make a short story even shorter - Martin couriered in famous dishes from around the globe: strömming from Stockholm, prawn mee from Kuala Lumpur, muffuletta sandwiches from New Orleans.

Many of the items were sandwiches of some sort, particularly those from North America (well, the US). When you think of regional specialties on both sides of the 49th, meat and bread features prominently. In fact, when I thought of a quintessential Canadian dish I'd fly in, the Montreal smoked meat sandwich was the first that came to mind.

Dunn's Famous Deli

Now that a Dunn's Famous Deli franchise has opened up shop in Vancouver, I'm saving on shipping costs. Though Schwartz's is undoubtedly the more famous of the various Montreal delis, Dunn's has kept going in some shape or form since 1927, and this newest location is a welcome addition to an otherwise barren playing field in our town.

Ask for at least a medium fat when you order your sandwich ($7.99 for a 6oz and pickle): anything leaner just doesn't seem proper. It's piled high and served fast, though still not quite quick enough to stop the bottom slice of bread from getting soggy. Things are minimal, with a scant bit of Heinz mustard, and perhaps not as much pepper as one might be used to. These are hardly complaints.

That said, it's been a long time since I've been to Montreal, and a long time since I've had a smoked meat sandwich. Just to compare, I popped over to Frenchie's the day after, where the dollar doesn't get you as far (add at least a dollar or two for a meal of the same size), nor does it get you something as good. While one slice of my Dunn's sandwich bread might have been soggy, the entirety of the smoked meat in my Frenchie's sandwich seemed much the same: bland and mushy. My memory might be shoddy, but surely Frenchie's can't be it.

The American Cheesesteak Co.

If it's been a long time since I've been to Montreal for a smoked meat sandwich, it's been even longer (read: never) since I've been to the Illadelph for a cheesesteak. My childhood experience with the classic was solely through a Calgarian food court, where an enterprising Japanese teppanyaki manager needed a twist to get his business into a mall that had already committed to an Edo franchise: add bread, provolone and you've got a new business.

I imagine the Main's Anthony Sedlak must've had the same entrepreneurial spirit: there might not have been many delis for Dunn's to compete with in Vancouver, but there's absolutely no competition for American Cheesesteak Co.  (For a comparison, I also tried a cheesesteak from the only other cheesesteak place downtown that I could think of: the Bada Bing food truck, where $6.99 will buy you a graying meat that should never be called steak, a sad affair that one should feel ashamed to order and even worse after having digested it.)

Regardless, the sandwich has a reputation that precedes it, and one can't help but visit with some preconceived ideas.  One assumption, for instance, is that the cheesesteak should be lethal for those with arterial blockage. While American Cheesesteak Co. doesn't necessarily skimp on the cheese, neither our "Classic" ($9 for the 6") nor our "Philly" ($8 for the 6") was loaded with it. We opted for provolone for the former (which comes with mushrooms) and American processed for the latter: this is one of those rare occasions where the sickly orange seems more appropriate. Both were good, but those expecting some Epic Meal Time grandeur should probably seek their decadence somewhere else.

Of course, that's based on another assumption: that one would usually pick up a Philly cheesesteak in a greasy neighbourhood joint, preferably eaten on the Rocky Steps while banging out some Gamble & Huff tunes on the headphones. It's the same sort of loose memory or assumption that I've got about Montreal smoked meat sandwiches: that it tastes just that much better after a night gone wrong with Labatt Cinquantes. Is that the sort of experience I can Fed Ex in? Probably not (even if they were real), and that - along with the sandwiches at Dunn's and American Cheesesteak Co. - is just fine with me.

Joe.

Dunn's Famous Deli
827 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC
(604)683-3818
Dunn's Famous on Urbanspoon

American Cheesesteak Co.
781 Davie Street
Vancouver, BC
(604)681-0130
The American CheeseSteak Co. on Urbanspoon

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