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THE DISH: Sandwich shop offers twist on fast food

Maybe it’s the travel fanatic in me, but I find few Internet time wasters more enjoyable than Google Maps.

Maybe it’s the travel fanatic in me, but I find few Internet time wasters more enjoyable than Google Maps.

I can while away untold hours virtually exploring places I have never been, checking out building facades, parks, and, more frequently than I should probably admit, restaurants abroad.

I recently dropped my intrepid little Google Street View person (the most well-travelled character on the planet, I suspect, certainly way ahead of that Travelocity gnome) onto the sidewalk of Baniyas Road in Dubai, near the four-star Carlton Hotel.

There, nestled between a foreign currency exchange broker and a Chinese hotpot restaurant, was the now familiar yellow and red awning of Haida Sandwich.

At my behest, Street View Man next found himself exploring the streets of Tehran, the apparent location of Haida headquarters and home to no less than 19 franchise outlets, before heading southeast to Sengalor, Malaysia, to look into the storefront of that region’s shop.

Haida Sandwich, which celebrated its Western Canadian grand opening on June 19 on East 15th Street off Lonsdale Avenue, claims to be the largest fast food chain in the Middle East. North Vancouver’s franchise is only the second in Canada; the other one is in Toronto.

The venue caught my eye not only because it is situated right across the street from the North Shore News offices, but also because it seemed consistently burdened by a long queue of eager patrons since opening. Not since the heavily promoted openings of Krispy Kreme Donuts or Chipotle Mexican Grill had I seen such excitement for a fast food joint.

I eagerly went to check out what all the fuss was about one recent evening, picking up take-out for the family. Haida offers 19 different sandwiches, six varieties of pizza (an unusual riff on the perennial fast food favourite, I’ll get to this in a minute) and a variety of appetizers. Though there is some limited seating in the restaurant, Haida is principally a take-out establishment.

Let me quash any misgivings you may have about yet another fast food sandwich place opening in town: Haida’s fare is definitively not a carbon copy of other, existing offerings. Their sandwiches are unique in flavour, texture and composition.

For example, the first thing you’ll notice is the sheer weight of these puppies. When my order was ready, I hoisted it from the counter and wondered for a second if a brick or two had been slipped into the bag. Haida’s sandwiches are stuffed to capacity, even overflowing with ingredients. The sandwich weight is not just from the various stuffings, however, as the bread itself has a density not found in your typical foot-long. Haida sandwiches are essentially crispy, hollowed-out baguettes jammed with all manner of proteins and vegetables.

My order included the signature Haida Special, a cold, submarine-style sandwich filled with chicken, beef, tomato, romaine lettuce, shoestring potatoes (this novel topping features in 14 of the sandwiches on the menu), and Haida sauce, a thick and rich mayonnaise-like condiment.

Now, it needs to be said that the meats on the sandwiches are firmly-pressed, cold-cut style deli meats, not carved roast meats. The cold-cuts were piled high on the Haida Special, easily representing three-quarters of an inch of the sub’s height. Between the mountain of meat and the sauce that was slathered on generously, this was a very rich and filling sandwich, besting me when it was less than half finished.

The hot mortadella sandwich, another item in my order, was similarly decadent. Served hot, it was generously topped with the eponymous meat, as well as mozzarella cheese, pickles, tomatoes, shoestring potatoes and Haida sauce.

Persian “mortadella,” properly known as kalbas, is different than the Italian version in that the former is typically made from beef or veal, is pressed with pistachios rather than peppercorns, and tends to have a firmer, denser texture.

I appreciated the pickle element in this sandwich as it gave it a tangy edge that helped cut though the richness of the other ingredients.

A third sandwich, the hot veggie, was stuffed with romaine, pickles, tomatoes, shoestring potatoes, a half-inch of mozzarella cheese and Haida sauce.

Despite the absence of cold-cuts, the veggie sandwich was a weighty, filling number in its own right. For my taste, I felt it needed something spicy, like perhaps a hot pickled pepper, to offset the overwhelming richness of the cheese and sauce.

All sandwiches are under $10.

Now, about that pizza. Uncertain about the kids’ response to this new brand of submarine sandwich (they liked them, incidentally) I thought it wise to order a cheese pizza as a backup dish. Haida’s pizzas are actually made on the same bread as the sandwiches. The baguette-like bun is opened and pressed flat, then topped with ingredients, baked, and sliced into rectangles.

The resulting pizza features a relatively thin, crispy crust and, at least in the case of my order, an eye-popping amount of gooey mozzarella cheese. Each of Haida’s pizzas is topped with the restaurant’s signature sauce and, interestingly, a squirt of tomato ketchup.

Our meal of three enormous sandwiches and a cheese pizza was $38.

Haida Sandwich is located at 121 East 15th St., North Vancouver. 604-971-6021

Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. Contact: [email protected].