It’s funny to think that I have probably eaten more than a hundred club sandwiches in my lifetime — okay, maybe a thousand. I have eaten dozens of them in diners across Ontario and Quebec and on road trips across Upstate New York; I’ve ordered them from hotel room service and in generic jukeboxes restaurants from Florida to Cancun. I am not particularly proud to admit that I even ate a club sandwich at a trendy Bobo café in Paris when I should have been seeking out the ultimate steak tartar or duck confit, or at least a croque monsieur.
There is something irresistible about that familiar combination of sliced poultry stacked between a trio of toasted triangles of bread, bacon, lettuce, and tomato with a glistening shmear of mayo. The 100-year-old US invention exists on menus around the world.
However, it stuck me recently that so rarely is the ubiquitous triple-decker darling a particularly good or satisfying sandwich. It almost always feels like it has much too much bread and not enough balance. The chicken or turkey ranges from scary slippery luncheon meat to the dried out cardboard bird variety. The bacon (which, truth be told, is really the whole point of it) is too often flabby and gets dragged out by the teeth with the first unfortunate bite and thus begins the inevitable unraveling of the artful masterpiece once the contents are freed from their cocktail toothpicks. Soon, just a few crusts and a couple of cold french fries remain on the plate. Until the next time we see a Club on the menu.
I blame a round of back-to-back episodes of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for my decision to finally check out Meadow’s Diner on Preston Street. I was craving some of that big-hearted comfort food served in a classic setting and boy, did I find it! When I walked in on a weekday at lunchtime, I was immediately impressed at the time-capsule quality of the place. There was the old-school four-section candy dispensers at the entrance, the bare-bones truck-stop-chic decor, and an extra-long counter with stools facing the open kitchen where a couple of guys were flipping burgers and chatting with customers while the no-nonsense waitress topped up coffee mugs from the pot kept warm on what must be the world’s first Bunn machine.
Let’s cut to the chase. The club sandwich here is awesome. The highlight is the chicken; it’s real fresh tender chunks of real white meat chicken. Did I mention it was real? And there is tons of it? Everything else too is just right – the toasted bread (not too dry), the crisp bacon and iceberg lettuce, the mayo (just the right amount). I could only find fault with the flavourless pale tomatoes with the texture of softballs — but let’s blame the mad-backward food system that plays pranks on Mother Nature, not the chef-owner at this gem of a diner. When I complimented him on making a great club sandwich on my way out, he informed me he bought Meadow’s Lunch six years ago after working in 5-star restaurants!
Someone call Guy Fieri – Ottawa’s got one ready for its close-up!
Club Sandwich: $8.50 tax included ($10.45 as a platter with fries — good ones)
Meadow’s Lunch, 455 Preston St., 613-567-5214.