Let's start with the menus.
Fidel Gastro's was sizzling out one of his classic faves, the Sgt. Slather, which is pulled pork topped with a squeeze of Guacamole and a sprinkle of tortilla chips. Then he decided to take a risk, which you have to give props for, by premiering a brand new sammie that they called the Loco Buco. So essentially this was pulled apart Osso Buco meat that sat atop green beans that were braised in a tomato sauce and splashed with some marrow butter. Go big or go home I say!
As for the McEwan team, they opted for Beef Brisket topped with caramelized onions & a big squirt of Horseradish Aioli. Their second offering was a straight up play on the Banh Mi craze with Asian styled pulled pork and the fresh toppings that have become synonymous to Banh Mi sammies.
Let the Tastings Begin!
So now it's time for a little sammie deconstruction.
Fidel Gastro's trademark bun is made by Cob's Bakery and is smaller than the McEwan's bun. FG puts his sammies on a griddle and then leans a weighted flat top on them resulting in a more pancaked sammie but it's definitely got a crunch and carmelized factor to it. I think the heat is also a trigger for a melding of flavours and textures. Bun to bun my choice leans towards FG's. For me bigger is not always better.
From a filling standpoint McEwan's Beef Brisket is fantastic. It's soft, it's moist, it's not stringy or fatty. It's got some beautiful beef flavour going on and it's been cut thick, not pulled like many meat sammies. I'm a beef chuffing chick so I gotta love this brisket. With that being said, here's the downside. Caramelized Onions? I know caramelized onions and this ain't them. These onions are just basically sauteed and braised. Now I'm gonna go all Top Chef critical and call out the Horseradish Aioli. So basically you got mayonnaise with way too much horseradish in it and some grainy mustard tossed in for good measure. From a guy like Mark McEwan I would have expected something a little more top shelf and way more outside of the box. The aioli completely overpowered that gorgeous beef and my sammie was top heavy in oozing with the mayo. After a while it becomes cloying and annoying.
Moving on to Fidel Gastro's Loco Buco. Well I gotta give the boy some props for going completely outside the comfort zone because Matt Basile could have just mailed this one in by bringing in my personal fave, the Sloppy Jose. Osso Buco has a very distinct flavour to it. Like most of his meat sammies, he pulls the Osso Buco meat so he can keep it in a steam table. The highlight on this sammie and pure stroke of creative brilliance is demonstrated by the making of a Marrow Butter that they squirt on to the meat. This just raises the bar on the Osso Buco flavour and adds a true uniqueness.
From an aesthetic stand point the pretty boy of the day had to go to McEwan's Asian Pulled Pork sammie with the Yuzu Mayo and the fresh slaw and toppings. I was sort of surprised that McEwan's went with something that I would consider a bench mark sammie by the Banh Mi Boys down on Queen Street. This was an attractive sandwich but flavour wise it just left me wanting. It just didn't quite deliver on the Asian theme. It was a wannabe Banh Mi that I didn't want.
At the end of the day, all sammies aside, it was really just a lot of fun being on this scene. There was so much smack talking between the two sammie camps and being in the middle of all of it just added to the whole experience. I really enjoyed the chance to meet Chef McEwan and his crew. Of course, as most who know me know I'm partial to the Fidel Gastro crew and all the Ole craziness that goes down with hanging around them. After all, I'm one of the original Army members. While it was a neck and neck, and a bite to bite decision, I'm gonna lean towards Fidel Gastro's because of the crunch factor and of course the Marrow Butter.
Riding with the King!