Slabs of crisped pork belly stacked like artwork behind the glass counter of Roast are among the first things Garrett Schack points out as we meet outside the Victoria Public Market eatery.
But the executive chef of Vista 18 was drawn here by the promise of perfectly prepared meat.
Part of the lure is the reputation of George Szasz, Schack explains while we peruse the lunch options.
“He’s practically one of the pioneers of (charcuterie) in Victoria. Not that he invented charcuterie but he’s been doing it a long time.”
In what I later find out is self-professed chef geek perspective, Schack quickly points out the Henny Penny oven filled with roasting root vegetables and lamb. It can cook meat perfectly – there’s that draw – with a combination of dry heat, or an injection of steam to keep portions evenly moist.
Schack has yet to eat at the relatively new Roast, owned and run by Szasz and Ryan McGregor, but seems confident.
“There’s been lots of talk about Roast, and the Public Market from among my colleagues,” he says.
The woman behind the counter chops a slab of the crisp fat from atop the porchetta for my sandwich. As she shaves perfectly medium juicy prime rib for Schack’s sandwich, he asks where the buns are from. As she struggles to recall, the baker himself hustles around the corner carrying a brown box filled with rows of Portuguese buns.
“Casa Nova (Catering),” Schack guesses correctly. “The ingredients are great but a fresh bun makes all the difference.”
After a stop at the self-serve soda fountain for a pull of Phillips Ginger Ale, we settle into bar seats, facing glass that separates us from the meat from which our sandwich fillings were so recently cleaved.
“I love that you can sit here and see it,” he says. “It gives you a bit of an old world feeling.”
Cautiously he peels the brown paper from his cleverly labeled beef sandwich. The sticker shows a profile of a cow’s head, while mine features a piggie profile.
With a little more abandon he hefts the beef, caramelized onions and chimichurri-sauced sandwich up for a bite.
“Delicious sandwich, healthy portion size, he didn’t disappoint,” Schack says, referring to Szasz’s reputation.
I fear the texture of fat, so with slight trepidation at the bits of soft fat chopped into my sandwich, I take a bite. I’m stunned by the fantastic crunch added by the top crispy bits. The combined salty pork flavour and a surprise of broccoli is fantastic.
We watch as the sandwich maker pulls roasted veg from the beloved Henny Penny, and sets them below chickens slowly turning in the rotisserie. The delicious drippings season the veggies beyond good, the Vista 18 chef points out.
“And you can come down on your way home from work and buy a rotisserie chicken. They’re far and above better than roasting one in your oven.”
Schack finishes his sandwich, while I pack a portion away for later. Cautious of our ongoing recovery from the illnesses that seems to be plaguing the city, we opt not to swap bites.
Lamenting that loss, we split a salted chocolate cookie to lift our spirits.
It does the trick.