Unless you happen to spend a lot of time next door at the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, Rosedale’s tiny Black Camel can be easy to miss. And when you do walk in, looking for a wonderfully sloppy pulled-pork or beef-brisket sandwich, you might well be out of luck: Owner Irwin Schwartz has been selling out of them nearly every day since he opened in 2004.
So when it came to opening Boar, his new Italian sandwich shop, Schwartz, 63, and his 23-year-old son, Eli, stuck with a formula that already worked beautifully. They stayed close to the subway, kept the place small and tucked away enough for diners to consider it a hidden gem, and created a menu with just five sandwiches done really, really well.
After spending nine years at Black Camel—where he started as a dishwasher—Eli has, unsurprisingly, some well-formed opinions about particular flavour combinations (at Boar, as at Black Camel, you build your own sandwich). On a recent spring afternoon, he took orders from behind the cash register, cheerfully dispensing advice to a pack of grade schoolers: Caramelized onions taste great with tomato sauce; the chicken goes well with the arugula topping or the arugula pesto sauce,
but not both.
Trust him. The chicken sandwich ($8.25) gets a creamy tang thanks to the lemon garlic aioli or an herbal kick from the arugula. Chicken thighs and drumsticks—Schwartz prefers the more flavourful dark meat—are marinated overnight in olive oil, garlic, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and chili peppers, then roasted before being grilled to a light char. For the veal (also $8.25), two slices are tossed in a simple egg, flour, and breadcrumb batter before onions and a sweet tomato sauce are spread on top. It’s finished in a soft but crusty Italian ciabatta from Nino D’aversa Bakery in the North York.
A meatball sandwich ($7) yields four plump golf balls of veal, pork, and beef. Less Italian-American but equally delicious is the vegetarian portobello sandwich ($7), which pairs a large, roasted mushroom cap with a garlic-chili-parsley butter, to maintain its silky texture, but calm the raw earthy taste that can put off the fungi-adverse. “People know what their sandwich should taste like when they come in,” the elder Schwartz says. “Our challenge is to match the memory of the sandwich they have in their heads.”
That challenge is one he took on a dozen years ago. Trained as a lawyer, Schwartz left Toronto in the early ’90s to practice in Europe; while in London and Vienna, he noticed the abundance of sandwich shops, something conspicuously absent in Toronto. He came back ready for a career change and, after walking out of Rosedale subway station, noticed a for-rent sign on a nearby storefront. He decided on a take-out spot and signed the lease the next day. A friend with kitchen experience supplied the culinary training and early customers supplied the word of mouth.
Back at Boar, the grade schoolers have gobbled up their sandwiches and are getting ready to leave. But first, a kid writes a succinct mini-review on the chalkboard below the cash register. “Tried the chicken sandwich, it’s the best, and if you don’t like it you’re not awesome.”
Boar, 3 Glebe Rd. E., 416-482-1616.