You Need To Try This is a running archive of all the awesome drinks and delicious dishes we’ve come across over the course of our professional and private lives.
My parents split when I was young. My Mom stayed on the West Coast (where I was born) and my Dad moved to Toronto. I would do three or four years of school in one city – spending my summers and Christmas holidays in the other – before switching back to the other city. It seemed natural enough to grow up in two places at once. Back east I had a dog. On the coast I had two cats. I had two rooms, two sets of friends, two families, two lives. As I got older what I noticed most about my odd existence was that each life had its own special food experiences. When I was with my Dad I pined for White Spot, really good fish and chips with malt vinegar, Pagliacci’s focaccia bread, and Lee’s Doughnuts. When I was with my Mom I dreamed of Jamaican patties, peameal bacon, street vendor hot dogs, and chicken parmesan sandwiches, aka ‘chicken parms’.
Fast-forward 25 years and the two lives have merged here in Vancouver, where I’ve still got my doughnuts and fish ‘n chips for when my cravings get nostalgic. (I don’t eat at White Spot anymore because of their inability to concede the fact that their french fries are wretched and require an overhaul.) Since my Dad died in 2013 I haven’t had much reason to spend any time in Toronto, so I’ve adapted. I can get Jamaican patties, street dogs and peameal bacon here. The only thing really missing are the hot, gooey, saucy, messy chicken parms.
It’s a very specific sandwich. The one I’m talking about is made at an unassuming, blue collar turn-and-burn in Toronto’s Little Italy called California Sandwiches. You can get it other places, too. Established in 1967 by the Papa/Bertucci family, the company has grown to 13 locations across Ontario in my lifetime. So I’m not the only one who loves these things.
All that exposition brings me to the high number of former Torontonians now living in Vancouver who might be in the dark about the pretty convincing facsimiles being made inside a food truck called Burdy. Parked in the Container Brewing lot, the truck opened at the beginning of the summer — a collaboration of former Torontonians. Though I don’t think they cite California Sandwiches as an inspiration, I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’re going for a proper homage.
Burdy’s sandwich does deviate from the Toronto original in terms of its make-up, but the two are in lockstep enough: fried chicken breast seasoned and dusted with lots of dried oregano; a generous squirt of housemade basil mayonnaise (a Burdy’s touch); and a top coat of parmesan and mozzarella cheese — the latter melted and just a little stringy. It’s all presented on a squishy Portofino potato bun and wrapped tight to contain the pressure of being as delicious as the one it strives to imitate. Has Burdy improved upon the classic? I won’t say it out loud until you do.
So for all of you who know California Sandwiches and miss the living daylights out of their chicken parm, you need to try this. For those who don’t know what I’ve been talking about this whole time, you’re going to want to give this thing a shot.
NOTES: Burdy somehow also serves seriously excellent french fries, which brings me back to White Spot — seriously, how are your fries so comically bad? Unlike California Sandwiches, Burdy doesn’t do a ‘veal parm’ option, which is odd seeing as it’s probably more beloved in Toronto than the chicken.