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Eagle Rock sandwich shop celebrates Thanksgiving weekly

Dave Evans couldn't find a sandwich he liked when he moved to L.A.; so he created one: a Thanksgiving dinner on a bun, available every Thursday, September to April -- except on the holiday itself.

November 27, 2009|By Baxter Holmes

Sadly, Thanksgiving's feast lasts but a few days, depending on how fast you plow through leftovers.

But at Dave's Chillin-n-Grillin in Eagle Rock, the traditional holiday meal is served every Thursday -- on a bun.

It's called the Pilgrim: For $7, patrons get a French roll filled with grilled turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and turkey gravy.

In New England, where shop owner Dave Evans is from, the sandwich is especially popular after Thanksgiving. A hearty delight for lovers of leftovers.

So when Evans, 44, opened his shop in Eagle Rock about five years ago, a friend encouraged him to add the Pilgrim to the menu.

"I started doing it on Thursdays, being the Thanksgiving day," Evans said.

Damon McNeil, 32, manager of a nearby coffee shop, has ordered the turkey sandwich almost every Thursday for four years. "It's awesome," he said. "I usually get it with a little extra cranberry sauce on the wheat roll."

Evans serves the Pilgrim from September until April. He said he got the idea to open a shop in Los Angeles after arriving in 1988 because he couldn't find a sandwich here that he liked.

"Every time I spent a five-dollar bill for a sandwich, I felt totally abused and ripped off," he said. "Half the times I wouldn't even finish it. Sometimes they weren't even [edible] -- like, jeez, I wouldn't feed this to a dog, you know."

So, after just a few months, he quit his job in the hotel industry and headed back to New England, where he opened several sandwich shops and learned the business in a neighborhood that he says has bakeries, delis and sandwich recipes older than California.

Evans has had plenty of experience with food, having worked in 24 restaurants since age 16. Once he even tried to publish a cookbook, "Halfway to Bed," a guide on how to make dinner for others.

But he wanted this shop to combine all that experience with what he learned from business classes in college in Massachusetts, the successes and failures he'd seen from other restaurants he'd worked at, and his appreciation for high-quality ingredients in a market he believed was lacking.

"I knew I was going to come back and open a sandwich shop because they didn't have any good ones," said Evans, who comes from an entrepreneurial family.

In 2005, after stints at various clubs and restaurants in Hawaii and California, Evans bought the lease of a juice shop on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock "for a steal" and opened Dave's Chillin-n-Grillin.

The original business plan was to make the best $5 sandwich possible. But for years the shop was hemorrhaging money because of high food costs.

Now, the plan is to simply turn a profit.

"It hasn't changed much," Evans says. "It's still the best sandwich I can do for seven bucks."

He has 25 sandwich recipes on the menu and rotates specials throughout the year. His pulled-pork sandwich is his most popular, in no small part because of the sauce, which he labors over starting at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday:

"For four hours, I cook the pork in apple cider and spices," he explained. "And then I take the apple cider base, put it in the freezer so the fat congeals on top. Then I top the fat off so there's zero fat in the sauce. Then I add Maker's Mark bourbon and reduce it and make that into barbecue sauce, but I balance it out with Tapatio [hot sauce] and organic honey. That's how I start every Wednesday."

The shop now has a regular following.

"We know pretty much everybody," said manager Ghazal Bazrafshan. "That's Ben," she said, pointing to a slender man ordering a spicy sausage sandwich.

Others include Brian Burton, whose stage name is Danger Mouse in the pop duo Gnarls Barkley; and Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, who calls Dave's "the best sandwich shop on the planet," according to Evans.

But anyone who hoped to try a Pilgrim on Thanksgiving at Dave's Chill-n-Grillin had to wait.

It was closed for the holiday.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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