KINGSVILLE — The lowly sandwich has come a long way since the 4th Earl of Sandwich, hungry and not wanting to leave the gaming tables, asked for a slice of ham between two pieces of bread.
Over the years, the humble sandwich evolved from its early beginning — more toppings have been added, more condiments, more layers, to the point where the volume of food and size can make it a challenge to eat, even for the most ravenous of appetites.
With convenience came popularity and with popularity came contests to determine the best clubhouse, the best pastrami on rye, the best rueben — and the best veal sandwich.
Recently, the Mettawas Restaurant in Kingsville won top prize for its Train Wreck sandwich from Ontario Veal Appeal — one of many awards the restaurant has received.
Chef Anthony Del Brocco, who owns the restaurant with his wife Janet, did not have to do much prep work to prepare a sandwich for the contest. It’s been a signature menu item since the restaurant opened 15 years ago in the town’s former train station.
Mettawas customers voted with their stomachs, giving Del Brocco a good idea that he had a prize winner.
Coincidentally, on a day when the restaurant was swamped with orders for the Train Wreck, Del Brocco saw a social media post from Veal Appeal seeking entries for its best veal sandwich contest.
“The one day it was selling like crazy. The server said the Train Wreck is selling like everybody wants it. I’m like, yeah, it’s a good sandwich. Then I was scrolling through Facebook that afternoon and saw the contest for the best veal sandwich,” he said.
“So that’s how it started.”
The Train Wreck contains a breaded veal cutlet, provolone cheese, sautéed peppers, onion and mushrooms — and a bun.
Its name makes reference to the restaurant’s location and the spillover effect of the sandwich when eaten.
Del Brocco describes it as big and messy.
“You pick it up and eat it and it slops out; that’s how I would describe it.”
He said the texture of the Train Wreck — the way it feels in the mouth — is an important part of any good sandwich.
“The mixture of textures is important — the softness of the bun, the creaminess of the cheese, the crispy veal, the sautéed peppers, mushrooms and onions all have their own textures involved there too. So, multiple textures.”
The Mettawas, which serves a host of Mediterranean meals, is one of the top restaurants in Kingsville.
“We come here often … it’s special,” said Gary Schultz, a Harrow resident. “It’s a notch above. Kingsville dining is a kind of a destination point.
“It’s pretty unique and we’ve got the breweries which are outstanding. We’ve got the coffee roasters … a great butcher shop, bakeries. There is no reason to go anywhere else. Windsor, forget it.”
Del Brocco said the Kingsville food scene is unique — not just for the large number of high-end eateries but also the degree of co-operation among restaurants. They are allies more than competitors.
He cited an example. When Del Brocco recently needed a C02 canister for his bar he phoned Mark Muzzin, a friend and co-owner of the Kingsville Brewery and pub, who promptly came to the rescue.
“All of our customers are the same, we share customers and the community of Kingsville is very supportive of all of us. It’s really nice to see that … working together,” Del Brocco said.
Anthony and Janet, both 50, met at Kingsville District High School in music class. Janet was in the choir, Anthony played the clarinet.
They started their restaurant in 2008 in the middle of a recession.
The couple approached the Essex Region Conservation Authority, which owns the old railway building, about renting the Lansdowne Avenue station for a restaurant. They received quick approval.
“It was scary. The first three months were touch and go. We opened in October, the winter. It was tough. But we did it. Things worked, so we’re thankful … then the restaurant boom in Kingsville happened.”
Del Brocco has an emotional attachment to the old railway building. He passed by the station on his way to school when the building was a ruin. And during renovations to the station by ERCA, his late father, Alex, a mason and cement contractor, rebuilt the low wall surrounding the outdoor patio. He also poured cement for the floors and repointed the stonework.
“He’s here in spirit, he’s always here. I can tell. I just know it,” Del Brocco said of his father, who died in 2019.
The restaurant has won numerous awards during its 15-year history. In 2017 it was listed as one of the top-100 restaurants in Canada by Top Table, an online reservation network. The listing by Top Table is based on customer reviews.
The same organization also ranked the restaurant as a top spot for a romantic evening or date.
Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island has also rated the Mettawas a top date-night spot and gave the restaurant a thumbs-up for its patio.
Kingsville resident and frequent customer Jarica Turner pointed to the hardwood floors, the panelling, lighting, the fireplace and the railway decor and said, yes, the restaurant deserves high marks for its romantic atmosphere.
“The way they’ve decorated here, the ambiance, I like it,” she said.
Like many businesses, the Mettawas was hurt by the pandemic. The Del Broccos adjusted by preparing more takeout meals.
One of the benefits of the pandemic was the increased foot and bicycle traffic along the adjacent Chrysler Canada Greenway as local residents sought a safe, socially distanced form of exercise.
More people discovered, “Oh, look there’s a restaurant here,” said Janet. She’s sure some of those people returned for a meal.
Her husband said the Greenway helps the Mettawas.
“It’s a popular path. There are always people going by. A lot of people sit on the patio and say we like it because we can people watch.”
Last summer, the Mettawas worked closely with the Kingsville Music Society when it hosted the Greenway Jam, a series of concerts at selected spots along the trail.