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Eating the Historical Significance of East Van’s Fabulous ‘Fat Stevens’ Sandwich

STACKED is a Scout column that aims to dig down into the delicious details of Vancouver’s better sandwiches and burgers. 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!

One of the sad things about great dishes is that sometimes they just go away and disappear into the ether. If you don’t believe me, read a book of recipes from Ancient Rome or try to make sense of a menu from just 100 years ago. This applies to types of sandwiches and burgers, too. Edible articles of interest and value just come and go. Remembe the Feenie Burger? It’s the way of all things, Simba, and we must move on.

Or not!

Several years ago, Stephen Wiese, co-founder/chef of the West End’s La Brasserie, used to roll around in a food truck that served up a hot, wet and messy-fantastic chicken sandwich of the sort dreams are made of. Simply called the ‘Brass Sandwich’ (but nicknamed “Christmas on a bun”), it was a diminutive, $6.25 thing of whispered lore and legend that was comet-like in both its impact and window of availability. Speaking personally, as soon as I began to rely on it for its deliciousness – back when the truck was parked on the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville – it was gone.

Stephen Wiese with a freshly served Brass Sandwich, circa 2012.

Of course, chicken sandwiches are as common as cheeseburgers. What’s the big deal? Well, this particular iteration was a simple thing of beauty. I’d never seen one quite like it. It was like a less complicated, less obscene Moistmaker — just five elements: bun, crispy fried onions, mayo, gravy and chicken. When put together and served hot, it was pure magic — Christmas on a bun, indeed.

Thankfully, the Brass Sandwich was resurrected when Bells and Whistles launched on Fraser Street this past year. Chef Alessandro Vianello’s version is considerably larger than the Brass Sandwich but as a respectful nod it is emphatically sincere. He calls it the ‘Fat Stevens’. At $16 (with a side of fries), this sandwich with a past is well worth breaking down.

1. Bells and Whistles’ sesame seed-studded milk bun. This is the restaurant’s workhorse ingredient, and it does its job well. In a previous Stacked piece on the B&W breakfast sandwich, I described it thus: “A great delivery system for the whole thing that keeps its structural integrity even while being viciously attacked.” And you’ll especially need that strength with a wet sandwich like this. Top marks for grill toasting.

2. Crispy fried onions. As you can see in the original sandwich, there were way more onions in the version from La Brasserie (see the photo below, with a grinning chef Stephen Wiese). Vianello’s tilts the ratio towards chicken, which is welcome. The key here, let’s not forget, is the textural contrast the crunchy onions provide the teeth as they chomp through. It’s a happy thing, like biting into a Caramilk bar.

3. Mayo. Because mayo. It slicks and palate while adding sweet and acidic notes. It’s the Jeff Goldblum of condiments, making everything it shows up in just a little bit better (especially if it’s slowed down).

4. Gravy! The magic ingredient of the whole shebang. The gravy is made slow with the bones of the roasted chicken and is mixed with the meat once it’s been pulled.

5. The chicken is local and of high quality (from Farmcrest in Salmon Arm). The birds are brined in beer for two days before being roasted. If I’m not mistaken, La Brasserie used the same brine technique but used their rotisserie for the cooking. Either way, it’s all in the brine and the gravy mix, which results in the dreamy meat my mouth won’t ever forget.


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Neighbourhood: Fraserhood
3296 Fraser St.

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