BLACK CAMEL (4 Crescent, at Yonge, 416-929-7518) Complete meals for $10, including all taxes, tip and a tea. Average sandwich $6. Open Monday to Friday 7 am to 6 pm, Saturday 9 am to 6 pm, sandwiches daily from 11 am. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Toronto considers itself on the cutting edge of culinary sophistication but, as unbelievable as it must seem, there are still a few dishes that most local foodies have never tasted.
Many's the night I've tossed and turned on the ol' Sealy Posturepedic wondering if grits are gritty, whether Philadelphia cheese steak contains either meat or dairy, and exactly what I would do in polite company with a Ding Dong. And for those of us who've found ourselves speculating during a Roseanne rerun about what the bejeezus a loose meat sandwich could possibly be, Rosedale's Black Camel has the answer.
Taking its name from a 17th-century Viennese café of the same name and not the Charlie Chan movie, this Camel takes sloppy-joe-style sandwiches to new heights. There are only three: Black Angus beef brisket, pulled barbecued pork shoulder and free-range chicken. A fourth is assembled from the others' roasted veggie options (all $6), and a fifth monthly special on our visits consists of sliced rare flank steak paired with red onion and pink chipotle mayo ($7.50).
Only the beef and pork are technically loose, having been marinated in Southern U.S. barbecue spices for three days before being slow-roasted for 12 hours until they literally disintegrate.
But that's where the similarities with the Midwest specialty sandwich end. Instead of cheap hamburger on wack weck, Camel's hefty versions are made from primo Cumbrae meat and big kaiser-like buns that are doughy enough to sop up all the juices but sufficiently firm to not fall apart after doing so.
Both the brisket and pork shoulder come with the house's optional molasses-sweet barbecue sauce, but all are available with additional caramelized onion and roasted Roma tomato, eggplant or sweet red pepper toppings (75 cents each). We pair Camel's chunky free-range chicken with a pleasant basil pesto, but are disappointed when the menu-promised sautéed cremini mushrooms (another 75-cent option) turn out to be common button 'shrooms. So what's the dif? About four bucks a pound.
The only other items on the very limited menu are Kettle Creek chips (potato chips being the only thing a purist would eat with a loose meat sandwich, $2), a few brought-in pastries and some special blends from nearby House of Tea. Appropriately, these teas are loose. First-time restaurateur John Volpe has obviously done his homework. After doing time at the nearby Rosedale Diner, he's created a unique spot that's both upscale and cool. With Howlin' Wolf on the CD player, marble on the countertops, pale beige ceramic tile on the wall and blond laminate flooring underfoot, Black Camel could be as at home on fashionable King West as on low-rent Kingston Road.
Like Chippy's and Burrito Boyz before it, I smell franchise.