Hillside To The Philippines

Boston College’s Hillside Cafe is not the only location in the world where specialty sandwiches such as the New England Classic, the Chicken Salad Club, and the Chestnut Hill are sold. There is a cafe in the Philippines that also sells these sandwiches, among others, called the Plaza Cafe.

Plaza Cafe is co-run by Boston College graduate Andrew Escaler, BC ’06, and his friend, both of whom were originally from the Philippines and moved back home after graduation when the financial crisis made it hard for them to find good jobs in the U.S. The Plaza Cafe has 15 employees and serves some of the sandwiches featured at Hillside Cafe at BC, such as the Turkey and Brie, the New England Classic, and the Chestnut Hill—all served on the signature cranberry apple bread—along with some of the owners’ own sandwich and salad creations. Plaza Cafe also features Hillside Cafe’s signature ‘Frips,’ a combination of French fries and chips.

After graduating from BC and moving back to the Philippines, Escaler missed the sandwiches that were served at Hillside, and he also missed the friends that he had made while in college. “What I miss most about Boston College is living with and in close proximity to most of my best friends,” Escaler said in an email.

“I’ve never found sandwiches I’ve enjoyed as much as those in Hillside,” Escaler said. “Even living in NYC, I always found sandwiches to be so dressed up. I missed the simplicity and quality of the sandwiches from Hillside. Nothing fancy, just quality ingredients. The sandwiches from Hillside are among our most popular.”

Escaler had always wanted to bring fresh and simple sandwiches to a Filipino culture, where rice is usually the accepted staple food. “The local culture is very fast food-dominated, people enjoy eating rice much more than sandwiches,” Escaler said.“[There is] lots of Western influence, though, as the United States played a big role in the country after the Spanish American War when they won colonial authority over the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam.”

Plaza Cafe was started through the goodwill of one of Escaler’s friends, who recommended the location to him and his co-founding friend. “A friend of ours owns an art gallery that was next to a medical clinic,” Escaler said. “When the clinic closed down, they suggested we take a look at the space just in case we were interested in putting something up. We had been wanting to open a sandwich place, so when the opportunity came, we seized it. I then wrote several members of Boston College asking for help, but wasn’t given any until I went back to Hillside and talked to an assistant manager, who was kind enough to show me around and give me an idea of how everything worked.”

Escaler has a hard time choosing his personal favorite sandwich that the Plaza Cafe has to offer. “It’s hard to say, it depends on my mood,” he said. “My top five are our Pastrami on Rye Bread, Turkey Stack, Chicken Club [with chicken salad], New England Classic, and Turkey and Brie.”

Other sandwiches besides the Hillside Cafe sandwiches that Plaza Cafe has to offer on its menu include the Manhattan Panini (chicken breast, roasted bell peppers, mozzarella, and pesto on white bread), the Santa Cruz Panini (hummus, alfalfa sprouts, avocado, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers on white bread), and the La Brea Sandwich (chicken, avocado, balsamic onion marmalade, bacon, and mayo on white bread).

The Plaza Cafe menu offers a variety of soups, sandwiches, grilled paninis, and salads with homemade dressings and local produce. Each sandwich and panini also comes with either a side salad or the Hillside “Frips.”

The atmosphere of Plaza Cafe allows customers to relax and enjoy their meals. Customers who come into Plaza Cafe and make a purchase can stay and enjoy a variety of books and board games—such as Monopoly, Scrabble, and Taboo—that the cafe has to offer.

“I enjoy allowing people to enjoy new things or things they miss, introducing people to a better way of life,” Escaler said.

Bringing the BC sandwiches to the Philippines and allowing customers to enjoy their meals has helped Escaler accomplish his goals to break free of the stereotypical Filipino food culture. Plaza Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and also features a bar attached to the back that sells imported beer and attracts local customers due to its 1920s speakeasy ambiance and atmosphere.

The bar is called the Exit Bar for the back exit door through which customers have to enter. Customers can enjoy conversation and food while at the bar. Whether providing sandwiches or a fun time, Plaza Cafe is a place for Filipinos to gather for an alternative to their typical meal options.

Featured Image by Plaza Cafe