Welcome to our brand new sandwich column from Scanwiches creator, Jon Chonko. Every month, Jon will dive deep between two glutenous slices of metaphorical bread to explore current events, personalities, and contemporary issues through the lens of sandwiches (with the help of a very hi-res scanner).
You have probably heard of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. He's been in the news a few times this year. He likes to party, loves to dance, and is apparently charismatic as hell. Yesterday, news broke that Rob's decided to check himself into rehab after getting caught smoking crack—again.
I hadn't really given Rob or his beloved city of Toronto much thought beyond the occasional scandal headline, but that all changed for me earlier this year, when one of his benders took him to a delicious looking 24-hour diner, the Steak Queen. In that video he's just a grumpy, inebriated man desperately in need of a snack. His hangry fake patois rant has "low-blood sugar" written all over it. It makes sense he would go there and order a medium-rare hamburger, because it's the kind of place that never closes. It's also close to home—located in the former municipality that Rob Ford was born, and one that he represented as councilor for ten years.
The only way to truly understand this politician and his intentions is to take a deeper look at one of his utmost desires: the kinds of sandwiches he crushes after a long bender.
I'm the kind of dude who appreciates a quality sandwich, and since Rob seems like the kind of guy who enjoys shoveling sandwiches into his mouth late at night—which might have less to do with his personal preferences and more to do with a historic lack of options around Toronto—at least we share that in common. Since I'm American and a total outsider to Toronto's eating culture, I called up Adrian Ravinsky, owner at one of Toronto's best late-night snack bars, 416 Snack Bar, to get a better feel for what's going on in Hogtown's sandwich scene. According to Ravinsky, the late-night food scene has dramatically improved over the past few years, but it took a long time to get there. "For a long time, you only had diners and Chinatown. Finding a good place to eat at two in the morning is tough though," he told me.
Those slim pickings were what inspired Ravinsky to start 416 Snack Bar with the goal of providing the city's restaurant workers a late-night alternative. It's a no cutlery policy type of establishment, so the menu is heavy on the hand-held foods. Rob, you'd love this place.
If the mayor were to walk into this establishment, Adam would have the veggie curio sandwich ready to go: two quinoa-crusted patties of deep-fried eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, watercress, and a little sauce. "Vegetarians never get to enjoy double-downs, but we wanted to allow them to get down on it," Ravinsky told me.
Despite its veggie status, the veggie curio, or, the deep-fried eggplant double down tastes like it's much heftier than a couple of vegetables on some bread. Rob's an excessive guy. So it wouldn't be much of stretch to see him experimenting with something out of his comfort zone and putting this inside of his mouth.
But then I started to wonder: Does Rob need some meat to help sober him up? Late at night, I'm usually in the mood for something greasy, spicy, and beefy. Maybe he is too? If that's the case, he might be in the mood for a bulgogi sandwich, that relatively new oh-so-perfect fusion of Korean bbq beef piled high on a bun.
If the Mayor's bulgogi cravings are as strong as mine, he might beeline for OddSeoul, an Ossington joint whose late-night snack menu includes a popular, suitably greasy bulgogi cheesesteak. Stuffing his face with marinated beef and American cheese on a crusty loaf loaf of bread seems like a natural progression.
But when I spiraled into a k-hole of uncovering moments from Rob's life—his schedule, inparticular—I had assumed that he might be pulling all-nighters working hard at the office. In reality, he tends to keep some pretty slim hours, ducking out as early as 3 PM, which gives him ample time to try one of Toronto's most delicious sandwich imports, the bokit, over at Le Ti Colibri. Opened by Kristel Procida and Matthias Laurin in 2012, this spot is providing unique French Caribbean flavors from the island of Guadeloupe—the birthplace of the bokit—to Toronto's food scene.
"It has a reputation to satisfy any appetite," Kristel tells me, "especially now that Rob is watching his weight, the bokit would be a healthier alternative for him to try." Deep-fried codfish and hot sauce stuffed into a deep fried bun…I'm not exactly sure what is healthy about it, but it sure sounds delicious.
Toronto is one of the most multicultural diverse cities in North America. Half of Torontonians were born outside of Canada, and almost as many speak a mother tongue other than French or English. And that's where things got tricky for me. Rob's said some awful and racist things about his fellow Toronto citizens. In his 2010 campaign, he explained that he thought Toronto couldn't handle any more people. Two years later, he went a step further, implying that gun criminals in the city were probably immigrants.
So where does that put Rob in Toronto's diverse food scene? When he's hungry at 2 AM and busy crushing a Korean-infused cheesesteak, will he be inspired or threatened by the sandwiches born of hard-working immigrant roots? Does he see the bokit as a refugee or a criminal? Does 416 Snack Bar's menu seem like too much—of both flavors and influence of varying cultures—for the city to handle?
Now that he's checked himself into rehab, the peameal sandwich is the only kind in Toronto that can really help anyone sober up upon first bite. "A peameal sandwich with a fried egg and cheese is a morning classic. It will set you up for the day," says Richard Mulley, owner of Rasher's, the bacon-centric joint that makes one of the best versions of this original Toronto sandwich. Traditionally, it involves salt-cured back bacon that's rolled in cornmeal, then served with an egg and cheddar cheese on some bread. But Rasher's serves up a couple of different variations—the only difference being the variety of bacon options, which includes boar bacon. Made with local pork, Toronto-baked bread, and homemade sauce, Rasher's calls their peameal sandwich the "Hogtown," a reference to the Toronto nickname from its days as a pork processing capital. Peameal bacon comes from the historic practice of rolling slow-cured and trimmed boneless pork loin in dried and ground yellow peas. Since WWII, the bacon has been modified to getting tossed about in ground yellow cornmeal.
In my imaginary vision of Rob's late-night bender, it's easy to see him sauntering up to City Hall wearing the same clothes he was the day before, a smile on his face, and a peameal bacon sandwich in his hands. Today, I hope he brings it over to rehab.
Good luck, Rob.