STACKED is a Scout column that aims to dig down into the delicious details of Vancouver’s better handhelds. From banh mi and burgers to sliders and reubens, the goal is to craft and catalog an ever-growing an archive of awesome that visitors and locals alike can reference when at their very hungriest. Dig in!
Launched in 1981 by the McDonalds fast food chain, the McRib was either much-loved or much-maligned, depending on the subjective tastes of those who gave it a try in its original four-year run (discontinued in 1985) and subsequent resurrections. I remember eating one when it first arrived on the menu at the Pandora St. McDonalds in Victoria. I was about eight-years-old and in the charge of my grandparents for the afternoon. They were secret devotees of McDonalds and highly suspicious of any new items. Served on a “homestyle” roll, the sandwich was made up of a patty of pork lathered with a distinctly flavoured BBQ sauce and topped with pickle coins and what I was sure were raw white onions. It was a jarring taste, but it was an adventure and I was not a little proud to shock my grandparents by declining a Happy Meal in favour of it. It was very possibly the first dish I ever reviewed for an audience other than my mother, and I was prouder still watching my grandpa theatrically grimace through the corner bite I’d offered him. My grandma declined her nibble. She was a Filet-O-Fish type anyway.
Of course, these days I don’t eat at McDonalds (lie), but on occasion when I hear that the McRib is back “for a limited time” I wistfully return to that first discovery and imagine what it would taste like after all these years (another lie — I order two and go to town). I’d never experienced anything close to it in the wilds beyond the golden arches until recently, when I tried the Ribwich at Bells and Whistles on Fraser Street. The off-menu item by chef Brodie Nutbrown has proven so popular as a special that it might become a permanent fixture. That’s it pictured above — I’ve tried to break it down below…
1. Sesame seed bun. This is the gold standard burger bun at B&W. The tops are soft and pliable and the flats are griddled.
2. Grilled scallion aioli. Adds viscosity and punch to the overall BBQ profile.
3. Store-bought, Hostess-brand “hickory sticks”. A stroke of genius that adds fast food smokiness and textural oomph. No doubt a quickly disappearing and oft-replenished facet of the kitchen’s mise en place.
4. Hickory sticks again, because I can’t emphasize enough just how vital they are to the overall impact of the sandwich.
5. Pickled onion adds acidity, sharpness and sweetness.
6. Basic cabbage slaw, well-seasoned. Texture for the hickory sticks to hide in.
7. Slow-braised pork rib meat well lubricated with a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce.
8. Pickle coins, for the win.
As I said up top, right now they’re only thinking about putting this worthy beast on their regular menu. They might not. So please, for the love of all things deliciously weird, don’t take the chance and wait on this one. Pair yours with an interesting beer, maybe something equally odd like the Kanazawa Muscato Brut IPA (7%ABV) from Main Street Brewing.