Let’s forgo the small talk. I’ve been busy and focused on other projects, and while I have not been blogging, I have still been eating, so let’s talk about it. Just don’t call it a comeback.
Last week I was invited to come out and sample the new “5 Buck Menu” at The Cambie. This means I didn’t pay for jack, and you should know that before reading on.
Calling The Cambie a dive isn’t an insult, it’s telling it like it is, and The Cambie wears that reputation with pride. Known throughout Vancouver as a place to drink on the cheap, The Cambie is now targeting people who want to eat on a pocket change budget too. While that seems well and good, price alone doesn’t dictate the value of food. It’s got to taste good too.
With value in mind, I have to state that I cannot comment on portions, and it is therefore difficult to say what options get you the best bang for your buck. We were served samples from a platter, which will make this experience unique to your own.
Disclaimers aside, let’s talk about cheap things you can put in your mouth.
Pulled Pork Taco
People that know me well know that pulled pork is one of my favourite ways to do protein, so I was excited to see this in the basket of fun. The tortilla housing the goods was larger than traditional tacos, and while it lacked the soft texture if its smaller cousins, it worked well in the given situation. The pork itself was very sweet, and reminded me more of the kind of pork that I would put on a bun with coleslaw than something I’d pile on a taco. The pico de galle was solid enough and served well to break up the meat, but I really could have gone for some more cilantro and traditional flavours, such as cumin. Should you order it, you’ll get fries that I didn’t get a chance to try.
Mac & Cheese
The menu states that it comes with a rich nutmeg béchamel sauce, and while I was able to taste faint hints of nutmeg, I couldn’t taste the cheese at all, resulting in a very bland bowl of noodles. The crunchy panko parmesan which topped the bowl was less the crispy textural break it aspired to be, and more of an obstacle to work around as it was overly hard and unpleasant to chew. It bums me out when something that should be a simple pleasure turns into a letdown due to being overly ambitious.
Classic Cob Salad
Straight from the menu, this salad is comprised of “chicken, bacon, egg, avocado, tomatoes, onion and blue cheese with butter milk ranch dressing”. It’s the kind of salad that pretends to be a meal, and in this case, it works. Kudos is given for using nice bacon, which make a huge difference, but I wasn’t crazy about the chicken. I’m not the type to ever get overly excited about salad, but I will say that I would eat this again if I found myself at The Cambie for lunch and wanted something on the lighter side. Yours comes in bowl, not a jar.
Sausage on a Bun
The name says it all, and it come with roasted red peppers and sautéed onions strewn about on top. The sausage itself was moist and cooked well, but I wasn’t feeling the Italian flavouring as it was just too strong for my tastes. The pepper onion mix was also a so-so addition, as it just made the entire thing feel a bit too wet. Lovers of tubed meats may dig this one, as it could just be that I’m out of my element with it. At $5, it still beats out most street corner hot-dogs. The sausage comes with German potato salad, which you can see pictured next to the Irish Nachos in the main platter photo. Essentially it’s fried potatoes and bacon, which work well as a side. I enjoyed it more than the sausage itself.
This really struck me as the “we need another vegetarian option” last minute addition to the menu. A simple composition of refried beans and cheese pressed between tortillas, it’s hard to recommend, not because it lacked complexity, but because the base flavours were just not all that enjoyable. Yours, should you desire it, comes with sour cream and salsa.
I’m a poutine purist, so when I first laid my eyes on the pile of fires covered in nacho toppings I cringed. Upon reviewing the menu I realized my mistake; I was looking at a screwed up bowl of nachos with fries substituted for tortilla chips instead of bizarro-world poutine, which I was okay with. The fries were super crispy, and actually worked surprisingly well in place of the usual chips. The guacamole wasn’t the best I had ever had, but still accomplished what it set out to do. Bacon, cheese and green onions are all high on my list of “things I like on stuff”, so this was a winner with me, and I would certainly eat it again.
Mini Cambie Burger (beef)
It’s the baby version of the Cambie burger, which is a fairly regular burger, containing the usual fixings and your choice of either cheese or mushrooms. Presented on a “fresh baked Kaiser”, the baby burger’s beef patty is dwarfed by the bread, which makes me think that the bun wasn’t downsized with the meat. The patty itself was dry, largely due to being fairly thin, and the texture, along with the flavour, wasn’t well received. Normally you’ll snag fries with it.
Mini Cambie Burger (veggie patty)
Now, it was at this point of the meal that I had an identity crisis. I’m familiar with vegetarian cuisine, and have voluntarily abstained from meat in the past for several months at a time just to see what it was like to be a vegetarian. That said, I’m a meat eater through and through, so it was odd for me to find myself enjoying the vegetarian burger more than anything else on the $5 menu. Based on chickpeas, the patty reminded me of bastardized version of a falafel, and I really enjoyed it. Thicker than the beef, it wasn’t dry and contained some really solid flavor, despite the patty being the ugly duckling of the group.
What we’re left with is a mixed bag. It goes without saying that the $5 price point is a tough one to match, but with more and more competition showing up, it’s hard to justify choices based on price alone. There is potential in the $5 menu at The Cambie, but it will take some refining before it merits a strong recommendation. Should it tickle your fancy, you can grab any of these items as well as a few more that I didn’t sample between 11am-6pm
Inconsistent offerings keep The Cambie’s “5 Buck Menu” from reaching “diamond in the rough” status.
300 Cambie St, Vancouver
$5 before tax