California Sandwiches (The Queensway)
California Sandwiches is arguably the most famous veal sandwich hot spot in Toronto, but we put another of their sandwiches to the test, and it more than held its own. Now with eleven GTA locations serving up their unbelievably massive sammies, little has changed since their first restaurant opened in 1967 on Claremont in Little Italy. With a cult-like following, simple ingredients and straightforward service California Sandwiches aims to do one thing right; make the best damn veal sandwich in Toronto.
While some of their locations could use an extreme makeover, the Queensway location restaurant is bright, clean and offers plenty of seating. Surrounded by auto repair shops and adjacent to an off-track betting club, it shares a common theme with their sister restaurants--to say they're off the beaten path is an understatement.
Arriving at a chance downtime with no line-up and empty tables scattered throughout the unassuming restaurant, I had to do a double take--this is not the usual California experience I have come to know. Line-ups for twenty minutes or more are to be expected at all of their locations, but our sammies were ordered and delivered in a gobsmacking five minutes. Counter service was swift and friendly, and our server graciously explained all the popular menu items, with veal, steak, and chicken being the top three favourites.
While their sandwiches aren't on the cheap side, the portions are almost big enough to split, and the quality is top-notch. An in-house butcher carves all the meat, and only Italian tomatoes are used for the sauce which is made in-house daily. Crusty Kaiser rolls are delivered fresh to each location every morning.
We settled on the veal sandwich ($8.25), and chose to have it straight up, with sauce only. I think you can expect to be properly shamed coming in and not ordering the veal, but I was game to share, and also ordered the steak ($8.25) with onions. Both came wrapped up in the ubiquitous paper foil packets, ensuring safe travel for those ordering take out.
We dined in and unwrapped these beauties pronto; sauce came sliding off the veal making it a 'ten napkin minimum' sandwich. The veal is glorious--pounded flat, breaded and then shallow pan deep fried. It comes smothered in your choice of tomato sauce (sweet, medium or hot), and we opt for sweet, and brace ourselves for some serious meat sweats. The bun holds everything together, but becomes dwarfed under the sheer magnitude of the veal cutlet. The powdery Kaiser starts to crumble under the weight, so it's best to eat in one sitting.
The steak sandwich comes brimming with greasy jus and translucent onions. Peppery and sliced perfectly thin, the sandwich is generous without being gluttonous, likely due to the non-deep-fry cooking method. The beef toes that fine line between delicate and substantial. You heard it here: the steak sandwich is a contender to the tried and true veal sandwich that's the mainstay of this chain of restaurants.
While they do offer a vegetarian option, you're better off going for broke; these insanely popular veal sandwiches are the standard for a reason. Sides on offer include a container of green olives or small salads, while toppings ring in between fifty cents and a dollar each--cheese, onions, mushrooms, hot or sweet peppers, eggplant and zucchini are all stellar options.
California Sandwiches has no beer or wine options, and sticks strictly to pop, water and Italian sodas. They accept cash only, although there is an ATM on site.