Good news for fans of the late, great Wagon Wheel diner...
When the powers-that-be at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre were putting together a menu for their recently-opened restaurant and lounge, they decided to pay homage to a sandwich that, for decades, was considered Winnipeg's "king of clubs."
"After the Wagon Wheel closed, we felt there was a need for a good-quality clubhouse (sandwich) in the downtown area," says Andy Fosty, general manager of MEC, formerly the Metropolitan Theatre, located at 281 Donald St. "We're not trying to copy theirs exactly; instead, we're attempting to emulate it, and carry that tradition forward."
The Met Clubhouse ($14, including fries) is available on white or brown bread and comes loaded with fresh-carved turkey, bacon, tomatoes, lettuce and mayo. The quartered, dill pickles are prepared in-house, Fosty says.
"Pretty darned good," says Terry Proveda, calling the Met Clubhouse the Wagon Wheel's "long-lost twin."
Proveda ought to know. Since September 2011, the 27-year-old Red River College student has been on a mission to find this city's top-notch clubhouse sandwich.
Proveda came up with the idea for his quest five years ago, when he was visiting a friend in Ottawa. One afternoon, the two buddies were trying to figure out where to go for lunch. Proveda was in the mood for a clubhouse. So he asked his pal to take him to the best spot in town -- a request that sparked a debate about where that might be, precisely.
A couple of years later, one of Proveda's instructors at Red River told the class to come up with an original idea for a blog. Proveda recalled the Ottawa exchange and decided to answer that same question, only this time on the home front.
At least twice a month, Proveda goes clubbin', as he likes to call it. First, Proveda picks a diner, drive-in or dive he hasn't been to yet. He orders the clubhouse, snaps a couple of pics when it hits the table, then chows down. He chronicles the overall experience on his blog, "Winnipeg Clubs -- sandwiches, not bars" (winnipegclubs.wordpress.com).
Proveda rates his meals on a scale from 1 to 10. Scores are based on a variety of factors, for example, processed meat (boo) versus the real deal, or presentation.
"One time the (ornamental) toothpicks were only pushed partway through," Proveda says, citing the sort of violation that could result in a half-point deduction. "When I went to pick the sandwich up, it fell apart."
To date, Proveda has ranked 37 different sandwiches, including three in Taiwan. (Proveda blames his three-month excursion to Asia for the reason there is no review of the Wagon Wheel on his blog. He heard about the Hargrave Street institution's pending closure while he was away, and by the time he got back it was too late, he laments.)
Only one sandwich has netted a perfect 10 out of 10 thus far: the Degrees classic club at Degrees Restaurant, located on the third floor of University Centre, at the University of Manitoba.
"You bite into that one and the taste is crazy. The chicken is seasoned perfectly, you can get it on marble rye (bread)... they just do it right."
Proveda is the first to admit he's not a food critic, much less a foodie. Instead, he's simply a guy who has has been ordering club sandwiches every chance he gets -- for almost a quarter-century now -- and has a pretty good idea what he likes.
"I usually try to say nice things," he says, adding as of late, he's included peripheral information about the restaurant-in-question -- history, ambience... that sort of thing. "If there is some stuff about my meal that sticks out as bad I'll point that out. But at the end of the day, it's a clubhouse sandwich. You can only say so much about bread, lettuce, tomato, bacon, chicken and turkey."
That said, here is a list of Proveda's top five clubhouse sandwiches in Winnipeg as of March 2013, a run-down that -- tsk-tsk -- fails to include the home-made sammie Proveda's mom prepared for him a few months ago.
"I was quite surprised by that; it was pretty good," Proveda says, adding he gave his mom "a solid 7."
1. Degrees Restaurant, University Centre, U of M
2. Gus and Tony's at the Park, 2015 Portage Ave.
3. 2 Kelly's Cafe, 81 Garry St.
4. Cheers, 390 Logan Ave.
5. Danny's All-Day Breakfast & Brunch, Forks Market
If you don't agree with Proveda's choices and want to tell him where to go -- next, we mean -- here's your chance. Send your pick(s) for Winnipeg's best clubhouse sandwich to email@example.com, and we'll pass your suggestions along.
To sweeten the pot, we'll draw one name from all emails we receive before April 11, and award that person a $25 gift certificate to the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre. Where we suggest you try the clubhouse sandwich.
Short of carbon-dating a strip of bacon, it's hard to determine who invented the clubhouse sandwich.
The story told most often goes something like this. In 1894, a fellow from upstate New York came home late at night. He was hungry, but when he opened the fridge, he discovered there wasn't enough of any one item to make a proper sandwich. So he took a leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato, some left-over turkey and bacon and squeezed the lot between two slices of toast, which he slathered with mayo.
A couple of days later, the man shared his recipe with the chef at the country club where he was a member. Ta-da: the "club" sandwich was born.
Nowadays, of course, you can order a clubhouse in practically any city in the world. But if you want to experience the absolute creme-de-la-creme, you have to travel to Berkshire, England.
The "von Essen Platinum Club Sandwich" has been on the menu at Cliveden's Waldo Restaurant for six years. It is made with air-cured Iberico ham, poulet de Bresse, white truffles, semi-dried Italian tomatoes, quail eggs and fermented sourdough bread. The damage? A whopping £100, or about C$155.
If you're lucky enough to have a few coins left over, here is a list of the most expensive cities in the world to order a clubhouse, according to hotels.com...
1. Paris, $33 (average price)
2. Geneva, $32
3. Oslo, $30
4. Tokyo, $28
5. Rome, $24
6. Helsinki, $23
7. Stockholm, $22
8. Canberra, $20
9. Copenhagen, $19
10. London, $19