DIV­ING INTO KAISER'S SUBS, THE SACK VILLEGENDARY SANDWICH SHOP

Lower Sackville’s sandwich leg­end serves up con­sis­tency, sim­plic­ity and nostalgia for lunch.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY MELISSA BUOTE Read more re­views at the­coast.ca/restau­rants

Kaiser’s Sub & Sandwich Shoppe 799 Sackville Drive

Nostalgia is a force of na­ture. It can come in a light­ning flash and turn into a whirl­wind of sen­ti­men­tal­ity or a tidal wave of long­ing or re­gret. It can’t be man­u­fac­tured in irony or kitsch lest you wind up with a pair of ruby slip­pers that do noth­ing but re­mind you of the home that you can’t go back to. Nostalgia, the kind that re­ally blows you away, re­quires sin­cer­ity.

Rick Baker opened up Kaiser’s Sub & Sandwich Shoppes in Fe­bru­ary of 1976. At one point there were a hand­ful of other lo­ca­tions, but since the early 1990s this, the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion, has been the last one stand­ing.

It’s tiny, just over 600 square feet. The mir­rored walls are cov­ered with old pho­tos and lam­i­nated menu cards. A row of clocks runs across the left wall, show­ing “lo­cal times” in places like Hal­i­fax and Dart­mouth. Lower Sackville Time hangs above the counter.

Every bit of space has some­thing crammed into it: a dis­play of pop cans, a toaster, a ro­tary slicer, a lotto ma­chine, small groups of peo­ple stand­ing shoul­der-to-shoul­der around menus or wedged on a lit­tle bench, the only seat in the shop, wait­ing for their or­ders. The menu has soup and chili, wraps and a three­slice “Dag­wood”, but most of the menu is sub sand­wiches. There are over 40 pos­si­ble vari­a­tions of a sub with seem­ingly small changes— adding or re­mov­ing dif­fer­ent deli meats or cheese—it’s a long list of sim­ple wants.

“It’s a real sim­ple busi­ness with a heck of a lot of de­tail,” says Baker. “But that’s just who I am. That’s what I strive for. There is a recipe for every pos­si­ble sce­nario.”

Around three quar­ters of Baker’s busi­ness is the Kaiser’s Cold Cuts sub, their orig­i­nal sandwich, a clas­sic trio of pep­per­oni, salami and ham with cheese. An 8-inch sub is less than five bucks. My friend and I each get one dou­ble-stuffed ($6.73) with the ba­sic works: let­tuce, tomato, pickle, onion, may­on­naise, salt, pep­per and oil.

“Noth­ing comes through the door cry­ovaced,” he says. They cut ev­ery­thing but the to- ma­toes in that ro­tary slicer be­hind the counter. He gets fresh bread every day, some­times twice, from the two bak­eries he works with.

“It’s def­i­nitely been an evo­lu­tion,” Baker says. “Not that we were sell­ing garbage in the be­gin­ning, but cer­tainly there has been an im­prove­ment over the years. I just wanted to get as con­sis­tent a prod­uct as pos­si­ble.”

Sit­ting on the tiny slant of dusty ce­ment steps out­side of Kaiser’s shop, our pa­per bags as place­mats, we snap open cans of pop as the air fills with that sig­na­ture smell, the thick oily per­fume of cured meat, salty and spiced, that lingers long af­ter the sub is gone, the way camp­fire smoke curls it­self into your hair. The first bite is an ex­plo­sion of bike rides and snow forts, of skinned knees and first kisses. It’s The Goonies and The Facts of Life. It’s what a time ma­chine tastes like, be­cause af­ter one bite I’m a kid again.

“Some peo­ple think the oil is the se­cret in­gre­di­ent,” says Baker. “All it is is a very light salad oil. It’s just to bring out the flavour of the veg­gies on top. And peo­ple think we mar­i­nate the onions. I just buy a good onion: it’s a Span­ish onion. I core and peel about 40 pounds one day, we let them air out and we slice them the next day. And when we slice them we put them in stain­less steel bins with three lay­ers of pa­per in them. Maybe not ev­ery­body needs to know all that nitty gritty, but we go to some lengths in or­der to pro­vide what we hope is a bet­ter ren­di­tion of what­ever in­gre­di­ent it is.”

And there is some­thing in this ren­di­tion, in the the grassy shred of the let­tuce and those pa­per-thin rounds of onion, the thick pickle coins and slices of tomato that adds up to an un­con­di­tioned re­sponse: I can’t help but think of sim­pler times. I un­der­stand why peo­ple have been eat­ing here for 40 straight years.

“When all the fran­chises started com­ing in, peo­ple said we were old fash­ioned,” Baker says. “Go ahead 10 or 15 years later and we’re called old school. Ev­ery­thing is cycli­cal. It’s all per­cep­tion. But def­i­nitely, we do it the old way.” They do it with sin­cer­ity.

A dou­ble-stuffed ver­sion of the clas­sic Kaiser’s Cold Cuts.

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