Say Mercy! opened during the beginning of 2020 by chef Sean Reeve and his group who also runs the MacKenzie Room. The opening was highly anticipated and I looked forward to trying their food, before the lockdowns in mid-March forced them to close shortly after. Fortunately they adapted quickly to the times and offered heat-and-serve meals and a patio-style sandwich bar over the summer.
The concept behind Say Mercy! is “Italian through the lens of American barbeque”, a marriage between two seemingly unlike cuisines. It’s so refreshing to see something completely new to the Vancouver food scene, and when you think about it, it completely makes sense to combine food from two regions with deep roots that focus on honest ingredients with huge flavors.
The Take-Out Experience
I ordered from Say Mercy! during Dine Out Vancouver, when they offered a $44/person 4-course takeout menu, which is served family-style and basically a smaller version of their regular $55/person “Jesus Take The Wheel” 5-course tasting menu.
Ordering was easy through Tock, but you need to pre-pay and order in advance as usual. Due to the small waiting area at the entrance, waiting for pick-up can be a bit awkward as guests trickle into the restaurant and attempt to squeeze past you. In hindsight I should’ve just waited outside but there was no one else there when I first arrived.
Their takeout bag matches the color scheme of the restaurant which is always a cool touch. However having dishes stacked 3-deep in a narrow bag with a wide-open top is a disaster waiting to happen, so I unpacked everything and reorganized the dishes in my trunk before driving off.
I always love these round paper takeout containers, since restaurants can plate their dishes exactly like the dine-in versions. As you can see, everything looked great! It was nice that they packed the red eye gravy separately, and made a point of telling me which dish it was for. More restaurants should do this and keep the sauces separate whenever possible for takeout.
The generous portion of bread was nice, but a little plain on its own. Including some butter or olive oil would’ve helped, but the benefit of takeout is that you have your entire pantry at your disposal. It ended up going great with some EVOO and balsamic.
This has tuna and anchovy dressing, salsa verde, caper berries, pecorino fresco and shaved celery on top. From the way this was described and plated, I was expecting a raw carpaccio-like dish and was kind of disappointed to find everything fully cooked.
The “BBQ Bolo” is the signature dish at Say Mercy! and I can totally see why. One can’t be blamed for thinking this is just some pasta mixed with barbeque sauce and pulled pork, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a legitimate slow-cooked Bolognese-style sauce, with pancetta and the addition of smoked pork butt and Grana Padano cheese.
It’s meaty, smoky, savory, sweet, creamy, a little spicy and oh-so-delicious. It has the texture and delicateness of an authentic Bolognese sauce, but totally tastes like Southern BBQ. It’s served with bucatini which is like a hollow spaghetti, giving it an interesting “bite” and more surface area to soak up all that delicious sauce. Take one bite of this and you’ll give in and understand what Say Mercy! is all about.
The smoked quail was served with Gnocchi Alla Romana, a sunny side quail egg, stewed collard greens and red eye gravy. The quail was a little tough but the smokiness was pleasant and nothing was overpowering. This dish had the misfortune of following the mind-blowing BBQ Bolo which made it seem unremarkable in comparison.
It’s hard to tell from the photos, but these were probably the smallest cannoli’s I’ve ever seen. Nonetheless they were delicious, with a creamy banana custard wrapped in perfectly fried dough and a touch of chocolate and honeycomb. A really great light dessert to end a hearty and satisfying meal.
Since I was looking forward to this meal for a while, I decided to splurge on a nicer Italian red: the Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino from 2010. I ordered these a few years ago, and every Brunello I’ve tried from the vintage has been excellent. It had the usual cherry and spice notes along with some bright acidity, a full body and really long finish.
The acidity probably made the BBQ Bolo taste sweeter and creamier than it actually was, but that certainly didn’t detract from the pairing. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave this 98 points and called it “one of the highest expression of Sangiovese you will ever taste”. I’m not sure if there was some hyperbole there, but this is a great versatile wine for any nice Italian meal.
Chef Sean Reeve deserves applause for bringing the concept of Italian and Southern barbeque fusion to life in Vancouver. Not only is the food great, but Say Mercy! has a thought-out takeout menu that doesn’t compromise on quality.
4298 Fraser St, Vancouver, BC
Price Range: $$$ ($30-$50)
Rating: **** (4/5 – Recommended)