Meat & Bread
370 Cambie Street
The speed of news delivery and the response rate of this city’s fanatical food bloggers never ceases to amaze me. There seems to be a continual rush by this unique niche of internet-based writers to first discover any freshly opened location and swarm on it like a pack of hungry wolves. Incredible I say, and more power to them as spreading any new intel about good eats is fine by us here at foodosophy. Keep ’em coming my cohorts, as after the buzz subsides somewhat, I’ll usually make my way down and partake in a meal much like a hyena or a vulture after the lions have dismantled the wildebeest carcass. 🙂 A case in point, my weekend jaunt down to Gastown to visit the very hot (from a posting perspective) space known as Meat & Bread.
I honestly can’t recall what business occupied this historic building, but it has character written all over it. The hanging chains and massive steel meat hooks right by the front door window is a sign of things you can expect inside. The very industrial theme is then juxtaposed by the very modern-rustic sensibilities of the decor within, highlighted by the thick and elongated wooden table that falls into your field of view immediately upon entering the front door. The warmth of the natural elements continues into the design aspect of the service area with its angled placement of off-colored wood pieces on the counter, and the light colored wooden mini-chopping boards that make up the serving trays upon which the sandwich creations are presented. White painted brick completed the motif, along with glass, stainless steel appliances and multiple units of these large round hanging lights that reminded me of those used in interrogation rooms of spy movies. A large matte black, almost chalkboard-like in appearance wall sign that sits near the front window is the only menu that I saw; as limited as that was with a spartan listing of just their four signature sandwiches. I’ve seen the lamb replaced with veal in other reports so its quite possible that this is one that is in flux.
Porchetta – $8
Roast Lamb – $8
Meatball – $7
Grilled cheese – $7
The list of beverages included to my surprise not thinking they would be a licensed establishment, bottled beer at $6, and wine at $8. To help digest our meal on this particular day, we opted for a pair of their Fentiman’s Sodas instead – going with the Ginger Beer and the Dandelion & Burdock variants, priced at $3 a piece. Never having had this “botanically brewed” soda before I had no idea what to expect, so the first sip of the Dandelion & Burdock I had instantly made me think this was in fact, cough syrup. Urgh, not the start I wanted. But after continuing to drink it, it began to grow on me and by the end, I actually liked its “medicinal” qualities. Apparently the Ginger Beer was aptly named, as my dining mate told me that is the dominant, almost too much so, flavor profile that was collected on his tongue. That distinct sharp quality of ginger very notable. I’m not a pop drinker so its great that the proprietors here have “gone off the grid” and elected to supply a unique product and different flavors that seemingly match what they serve in terms of the food.
See that tiny little dollop of mustard? No ordinary condiment, this was a real treat, delightfully spicy and really enhanced the meat product, especially the shredded roasted lamb and the accompanying creamy cumin-infused humus. I saw some jars of it on the wall and believe they might even sell it for home use. Again, this home made touch is really appreciated by me and I believe many others who have eaten here.
Pea shoots and radish were the other toppings in the roast lamb sandwich. Added crunchiness that balanced out the texture of the tender slivers of meat. Lamb has that distinct “gamey-ness” that I know is a 50/50 proposition for most folks. It was subdued here but you could still get a tinge of it. Strangely, it wasn’t because it was seasoned so strongly to mask that earthiness. I’m not sure the trick they deployed but assume it involves how they cook the meat slowly over time. I’ll get to the next sandwich later on in this post (we had two, but split them in half so we could each try both), but if I had to rank them, the lamb was the stronger of the two in my opinion. Also, I truly loved the ciabatta bread they use here. Normally I find it too “tough” and mouth cutting dry for my liking, but it was softer (especially the outer crust) and much easier and pleasant to eat. I saw several bunches of it sitting under some heat lamps up front, which I thought strange. Perhaps keeping it warm like that helped this aspect of the texture that I enjoyed?
Our secondary choice was the meatball sandwich. Reason being the minute we walked in the door and lined up to order, one of the working fellows told us they were out of the porchetta that seems to be the top choice among previous visitors (and bloggers). Pork I guess is always a winner in many people’s minds. Can’t blame them. I was curious as to how often this happens though, as not having enough supply to satisfy the clientele could evolve into a quality issue and turn away some diners from returning if they are going to get rebuked time and time again. Reminds me of say some ramen-ya in town that run out of particular varieties of soup stock. I think I got the short end of the straw, as for some reason, the half that I picked up was insanely peppery. Its as if a black pepper bomb had exploded inside and the shrapnel of it was all over the inside of my mouth on each and every bite. Good thing I had my soda to difused the fiery heat somewhat, but this really decreased my enjoyment level, where as the person across the table from me found this sandwich to be amazing. The meat I thought was again tame in terms of seasoning but as a positive was not dried out as too many meatballs often are, I think due to lack of fat balance in the content of them.
In addition to the sandwiches themselves, you could order extra sides or servings of some ingredients like the meatballs, as well pair your sandwich with a soup (I believe there were two available on this day – perhaps they change daily as well, unknown to me at this point). For those who need their sweet fix, a maple bacon ice cream sandwich could be ordered. But after a recent experience with pork product mixed with vanilla ice cream at another Vancouver institution (to be featured in a future post), I had to cringe at the mere mention of that flavor combination. That sweet and savory just doesn’t do it for me.
Its nice to see new styles of eateries pop up in this part of the downtown eastside and spruce up (of some might say take away from) the existing neighborhood and environment. For people who are really into food, I’m sure this gentrification and change is lauded and any new place is a bright spot in their minds. I’m sure they will achieve success judging by the early returns and reports that are flooding the internet. Hype though can be a temperamental beast however, and so I’d say its best to keep an even keel and enjoy each new spot and come away with your own thoughts with regards to its merits (or demerits). I think I’m overall lukewarm as to how “amazing” things are here, even though I’m trying to elevate my own “game” when it comes to appreciating what some might consider “simple food” – sandwiches. I guess the final question always is, would I come back, or further, is there something here that would keep me coming back. Strangely, I’d answer this by noting the mustard and the bread. I suppose keeping out the main component of their creations though – the meat. Is that a sign that I didn’t fully like it? Perhaps. In the meantime, it will remain on my list and I’ll drop by again to try out their other offerings but its not that driving an ambition that will have me chomping at the bit to come back to Meat & Bread in the immediate future. It will come down to convenience. That’s my current and honest take on things here.