|Chau's Burgers & Sandwiches|
Now I love a good dive as much as the next guy, but in my mind a mental coin was flipping to decide between a gyro and a bánh mì sandwich. The overall effect was slightly unnerving. I glanced around at my fellow diners. There were exactly four of them, one old man by himself drinking something from a coffee mug (no coffee on the menu though...odd) and a table of three pretty typical office types, all men. I wasn't intrusive enough to try and see what they were eating. I wondered what kind of lunch business this place will do during the upcoming school year. Next my attention turned to the menu.
And if your eyes are anything like mine, here's a better look...
I decided on the grilled pork Vietnamese sandwich. The guy manning the counter asked if I wanted jalapeños or not, which of course scored points with me since I usually have to make a point of saying I don't want them. Then he asked if I wanted teriyaki or soy dressing on my sandwich. I have to confess at this point that all of my experience with Vietnamese sandwiches has been from Baguette Deli, and never once was there any mention of a teriyaki or soy dressing. In the end, I went with the soy in the hopes it would be the less sweet of the two, but I also decided that I might as well push the unconventionality to the limit and got my sandwich in a combo meal with curly fries and a Dr. Pepper. During this process, I was asked again if I wanted jalapeños (I would be asked yet again when the final touches were being put on my sandwich...I don't know if the guy is new or just forgetful but it didn't bother me since the whole experience was so surreal anyway). At some point during the proceedings, it was explained to me without my having asked that the reason the Vietnamese sandwiches were so much less expensive is that they're made totally in house. I didn't know what that meant and even though I was curious I didn't ask. Do they butcher their own meat and bake their own bread? Is the Italian sub so much more expensive because they don't have the capability to make their own sausage or cheese? There was no grilled pork on hand, so while they made up a fresh batch I had some time to soak in the atmosphere. The counter guy came out and chatted with the office types for a few minutes before they left, and he was treating them like regulars even though I don't think the place has been open that long (in its current incarnation, that is). Another man came in and ordered take-out and they chatted at length about the upcoming Boise Music Festival. An Asian woman, what ethnicity I cannot begin to guess even though I have a pretty good eye for that sort of thing, watched the counter and put together orders while her co-worker "worked the front of the house". Occasionally, they would whisper things to each other. I have no way of knowing if this was work-related or not, but it did make me a little self-conscious about the pictures I was snapping. Anyway, pretty soon my order was ready to go, with the caveat from the Asian woman that all the cilantro had spilled out of the sandwich while she was wrapping it. It was all there she said, but didn't exactly look great. For some reason every little inconsistency fascinated and amused me rather than putting me off, and the strangeness would continue once I got to sit down and dig in.
As you can see, there was a lot of cilantro and it was indeed a little worse for wear presentation-wise. And you can't really appreciate the perspective, but that's a pretty decently-sized order of fries. Not much to say about the fries, they're pretty much the way you'd expect a diner's curly fries to be. Same with the fry sauce. The fact that they were accompanying an Asian sandwich just kind of blew my mind though. And what a sandwich! The soy dressing was generously applied, as was the mayonnaise. I have no excuse for not thinking about this when I saw it on the menu, but combining a soy dressing and mayo never would have occurred to me. That having been said...it works. The pork was grilled well, flavorful and not even a bit overcooked. The pickled vegetables were piled high and delicious. You can say what you like about Baguette Deli's sandwiches being authentic and reasonably priced, but one thing they are not is messy, and sometimes you just want a messy, overstuffed sandwich. I've always had a weakness for Asian flavors, and though this was Americanized, it honored the original ingredients and packaged them in a way that with a little fine-tuning could have serious mass appeal. I don't think this will be the restaurant to do it, but it's the one that made me believe the possibility exists.
All in all, I shouldn't have liked this place, but I did. The service wasn't stellar, the atmosphere was nothing special, and the menu seems to have kind of a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none feel. Maybe this lowered my expectations to the point where it was easier for the food to make an impression, but I don't think so. In the end, the ingredients were just plain good, the portions generous, and the flavors well-balanced. I'm already wondering when I'll be able to work my way back there to try the gyro or one of the burgers, and this time I think I'll stay there and enjoy my unconventional food in that strangely laid-back environment. If I had to sum up the experience, I'd say it's simply a case of a lot of potential wrongs making something very right.