Sandwich Box (238 Queen West, at John, 416-204-9411). Complete meals for $9 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottled juice. Average main $6. Open Monday to Friday noon to 9 pm, Saturday 12:30 pm to 8 pm. Closed Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNNN
Big Stan is understandably pissed off. Bored, he stands alone in his burger joint located in the food court across from Citytv, arms folded over his starched white apron. His eyes shoot daggers at the queue forming across the way at Sandwich Box 15 minutes before it opens. Soon, the line of customers will stretch out the front door.
Why the foodie feeding frenzy? Causing Soup Nazi-like scenes of mealtime mayhem, Sandwich Box is quite simply the most delicious budget dining find to hit the downtown core since Burrito Boyz.
Here's the deal: superb grilled made-to-order takeout sandwiches built on Ace Bakery bread and generously stuffed with quality ingredients, sided with lightly dressed mesclun, delivered in a white logo-free Chinese-style biodegradable container complete with stylish clear plastic cutlery and an extra-thick paper napkin. All for $5.48. No wonder Stan's miffed!
The brainchild of Abdi Ghotb, a former co-owner and chef of the Annex's far more upscale Serra and Goldfish (when it first opened and was good), Sandwich Box has been around for two years and has slowly built a following by word of mouth.
His concept's pure genius: high-end attention to detail with fast-food volume and pricing. And though the wait can take 20 minutes, it's worth every second.
From a list of nine freshly cut loaves and seven spreads, meats, veggies and cheeses, you choose a bread, a spread and any three toppings.
Here are a few of our favourite combos: moist grilled chicken with pancetta and tomato on triangular Swiss buns smeared with avocado 'n' chipotle mayo; rare roast beef with balsamic-caramelized onion and jalapeño-laced havarti on rosemary focaccia slathered with garlic aoli; and thick slices of char-grilled portobello, eggplant and zucchini on organic multigrain daubed with vegan apple curry. Once they're assembled and drizzled with lemon and olive oil, Ghobt grills the lot in a sandwich press to a gorgeous golden crisp.
But there's more to Box than just sandwiches, including two super soups (a licoricey dairy-free tomato cream with fennel and a fabulously ambrosial mushroom purée, both $3.95 with bread), a by-weight salad bar ($1.65/100 grams) and Vahlrona mousse ($2.95) and crème brûlée ($3.25) as well.
An experienced restaurateur whose CV also mentions stints with Chris MacDonald at Avalon and Andrew Milne-Allan at Zucca, Ghobt knows all too well that very few high-end eateries turn a profit. Thus his move to the opposite end of the market; that's where the really big bucks lie.
Watch for Sandwich Box to launch a second and much larger version in the financial district in the very near future. But until then, join the rest of us waiting patiently in line for some of the best fast food Toronto has ever seen.
And say hi to Stan.