Friday, July 22, 2011

VANCOUVER SLOP: BEENTOO SANDWICH & BBQ


I've often wondered what it must have been like to eat at the first McDonald's, before it became a multinational cultural juggernaut, a gleaming beacon of a world spun madly out of control at a breakneck pace. When it was still an earnest mom and pop business, eager to serve an honest burger for an honest buck.


It might have been like Beentoo Sandwich & BBQ, one of the oddest new establishments in the downtown core. On its face, the place just dishes out simple food - burgers, sandwiches, a random oddity here and there. No frills, no fuss, just straight-up calories, served with a smile.

But it's also laid out like a McDonald's or a Wendy's. The menu is laid out per sandwich, which one can order on its own or as part of a meal (side and soda), with a value menu on the side (a solitary drumstick!). The pan-Asian staff don uniforms and visors with the company colours. A self-serve pop machine sits on the side. Multiple television screens decorating the room, watched by no one in particular. It's all an experiment, and seems so otherworldly innocent that it's almost disarming.

And the food: an odd assortment of pan-Asian everything is offered, all of it tied together in its worship of grease. A Korean spicy chicken ($4.29, or $6.79 in a meal) sandwich is named mainly because kimchi is involved. A lemongrass chicken sandwich ($4.29/$6.79) pays loose homage to Southeast Asia, replete with deep-fried (but oddly tasteless) shallots. A Taiwanese red-fermented pork sandwich ($4.39/$6.89) hints at the traditional red-fermented sauce as much as Taiwanese hip hop hints at Public Enemy. Each is supported by a sloppy mixture of shredded carrot, lettuce and "sauce", served on a soggy bun that acts more as a mode of transport than anything that could be considered as food.

The strangest thing of it all, however, is that they're not half-bad. When considering only the protein itself, Beentoo doesn't do that bad of a job. Each sandwich protein was well-seasoned, moist, and flavorful - a surprise when one expects much less. If only the same could be said of the sides: the yam fries (no potato at Beentoo!) and the chicken and corn chowder should really only be had by those nostalgic for high school cafeterias, though they serve up a proper HK-style iced lemon tea for those wanting to "monsterize" their meal ("supersize" must be trademarked already). But it's all so oddly cornball and earnest that it's hard to fault. It's not the food we're after here, afterall, it's the experiment.

Could this have been what the first Golden Arches was like? What would someone have said about their first Big Mac, at the time when that business was on the cusp of being a phenomenon, just after having changed everything traditional about the food making process, after having introduced the world to their assembly line system? Would it have seemed as much of a bewildering amusement as Beentoo? Until we're all saying 'monsterize' instead of 'supersize,' I suppose I'll never know.

Joe.

Beentoo Sandwiches & BBQ
552 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC
the clutterer Web Developer

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