Food & Drink

Return to the Sandwich District

Pioneer Square Becomes a Living Monument to an Extremely Tasty Art

Return to the Sandwich District

Kelly O

THE CALOZZI CLAN And the Calozzi family steak and cheese.

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Kelly O
BUILTBURGER With Potato Beignets (!)
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Victor Twu
BERLINER Awesome doner kebab

How many delicious sandwiches can one neighborhood bear? In an ideal Seattle, one claiming a wise and benevolent Neighborhood Food Czar, a few of the brilliant sandwich joints in Pioneer Square would be redistributed to other parts of the city for fairness' sake. How can one five-block stretch lay claim to both Tat's Delicatessen and Salumi? (I wrote about these places, along with worthy newcomer Delicatus, six months ago—see "Seattle's Sandwich District.") And then, to add to the embarrassment of riches, how could three more amazing sandwich spots open in Pioneer Square in the last month? There oughta be a law.

One of these new places even opened in the space left empty after Tat's moved around the corner. A small, hungry challenger to the East Coast sandwich throne, Calozzi's doesn't feature the same broad menu as Tat's, but it does one of Tat's specialties—the Philly cheesesteak sub—very, very well. A basic Calozzi's steak and cheese is $8, your choice of cheese. While you could opt for a more cheeselike cheese—provolone and mozzarella are on the menu—you really should make like they do in Philly and go for the Cheez Whiz. What you get is a torpedo-shaped chewy roll full of the perfect mixture of shaved steak and artificial cheese product. It's not as messy and out of control as Tat's steak and cheese, but it's every bit as authentic and delicious.

Adding to its East Coast allure, Calozzi's offers a basic no-frills topping bar (shove some pickled peppers into your sandwich and you can probably trick yourself into thinking you're eating a healthy vegetable-infused meal) and a gregarious owner, Al Calozzi, who befriends everyone who walks in the door. Calozzi used to run a cheese-steak cart in Belltown, and he still comports himself with the patience of a man used to serving drunks on street corners—he's unfailingly happy and constantly curious. If he finds out you spent any amount of time in Philadelphia, he will question you until he nails down the places you visited and the names of the residents you may have encountered in your time there.

Unlike Calozzi's, BuiltBurger isn't founded on back East ideals—its central gimmick is decidedly West Coast. BuiltBurger began (and continues) as a mail-order meat service, and the Pioneer Square location is the first brick-and-mortar restaurant to serve cooked versions of the patties to the public. It's a fine space, a minimalist, hollow block of a store, faintly reminiscent of Pioneer Square's many art galleries, which puts all the pressure on the burgers to fill the space with meaning. The message here is more than just the ingredients (although those have a good pedigree, including locally sourced beef and organic toppings and buns). In an insane and delicious twist, BuiltBurger puts the toppings inside the patties themselves.

The Magnificent Chorizo ($7.95) blends ground beef with Mexican sausage, poblano peppers, and cotija cheese. It is a wondrous, spicy treat—not too greasy, with a perfect amount of fiery kick. Part of the appeal is the size: There's just enough burger to be satisfying—six ounces—without stuffing you full.

Not all BuiltBurgers are served so well by the ingredient-infusion technique. The Pinnacle Bacon Bleu ($8.50) has the taste of a brilliant bacon-and-blue-cheese burger minus one of the best aspects of eating a bacon cheeseburger: the texture. With the bacon ground into the patty, there's no tugging at a hunk of bacon with the teeth. The flavor is there, but an essential joy is missing. It's almost as though you're eating in some futuristic Jetsons-style restaurant in which they hand you a pill and you taste every flavor of a five-course dinner in an instant. It's jarring. Other combinations—beef and barbecue pork, beef and pastrami, chicken and "Thai flavors"—are less alarming on a textural basis, and every other aspect of the BuiltBurger experience is excellent, especially the potato beignets ($2.95), a side of tater-tot-looking nuggets that, when bitten, reward the biter with a mouthful of creamy mashed potatoes. They're forward-thinking in just the right way, a scientifically pleasing side order.

One of the greatest new pleasures to hit Pioneer Square has risen from the ashes of one of Pioneer Square's most forgettable mediocrities. In the old space formerly occupied by a Quiznos—kitty-corner from the old Elliott Bay Book Company storefront at the intersection of First Avenue South and Main Street—the Berliner is serving a lunch experience unparalleled in the city. A doner is a Turkish-German kebab sandwich, which is to say that it's basically a gyro, but you've never had a gyro quite like this. In a basic doner ($6.49), an enormous helping of juicy chicken or lamb is served in a pita, wrap, or ciabatta (the latter for $2.49 extra), and flavored with cilantro, garlic yogurt sauce, and vegetables.

Both the lamb and chicken are marinated in a sauce of the restaurant's own devising, which adds impressive complexity and saves the sandwich from being a generic overgarlicked gyro at any boring old Greeked-up storefront. It's also a sandwich that's marvelously open to variation—among others, they serve spicy hot doners, mango curry doners, and sweet and spicy doners. Some lucky days, you can get a cup of lamb-and-lentil stew ($2.99) on the side. Lamb is a tricky meat to get right; most restaurants err on the side of gaminess or overcooking. Here, it's just as succulent a meat as a good steak, served in a rich hot stew with enormous coins of carrot and hunks of potato.

In many ways, Pioneer Square should look to this handful of excellent new restaurants as a road map for the future. These shops are revisiting old favorites, forging new ground, and giving the neighborhood an identity that should be recognized throughout Seattle. From now on, whenever you are trying to determine where to eat lunch and someone says, "I feel like a sandwich," you should have no other destination in mind but Pioneer Square. recommended

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Comments (16) RSS

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The New Pioneer Square 1
Great article!

People are voting on their neighborhood favorite here:…
Posted by The New Pioneer Square on December 17, 2010 at 4:06 PM · Report this
Based on this review, I gave BuiltBurger a shot today - really good burgers! If you're coming down here to get sandwiches, however, you really ought to walk just a block or two further to Sub Sand (on 6th, near Jackson). They're really tasty, there's a lot of variety on the menu, and they're quite affordable. Plus, the owners are super nice!
Posted by ducki3x on December 17, 2010 at 4:51 PM · Report this
you may be able to get a nice sandwich at pioneer square at lunch time, but the place still sucks after sun goes down.
Posted by friedchicken on December 17, 2010 at 9:39 PM · Report this
" locally sourced beef and organic toppings and buns? "

do you know that for a fact?

nice journalism here. is this in anyway more than a blog post buy a drunk college kid?
Posted by friedchicken on December 17, 2010 at 9:47 PM · Report this
Seeds 5
It's still funny how around lunchtime every weekday the pioneer square quiznos has a huge line. With all the other options for food during the day down there why on earth are so many people going to quiznos? I can only guess that it's the brain dead suburbanites who have to work downtown being drawn in by the safe and easily recognized corporate logo, eschewing all other considerations for sustenance in strange and scary Seattle.
Posted by Seeds on December 20, 2010 at 11:04 AM · Report this
I work in Pioneer Square and usually don't have time for lunch - but after work I'll head to Delicatus. It's the only one of these sandwich places with a full bar, and it's open until 8 or 9. Win win.
Posted by psquarelocal on December 21, 2010 at 12:39 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 7
Yeah, I came to the comments to hype up Delicatus, too! I live pretty much right next to it now and it is fucking outstanding.
Posted by icouldliveinhope on December 21, 2010 at 2:47 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 8
Oh, you covered Delicatus last time! Whoops.
Posted by icouldliveinhope on December 21, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Sudden Nut 9

Didn't The Berliner replace the Pioneer Square Quiznos?
Posted by Sudden Nut on December 21, 2010 at 8:04 PM · Report this
Builtburger is so good. Personally, I disagree about the bacon/bleu burger. I love that it doesn't have that stretchy bacon to deal with, I often end up pulling that crap out. With the bleu cheese and bacon IN THE PATTIE(!), it's perfect every time.
Posted by Avtar on December 22, 2010 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Medina 11
@5 and @9, yeah, The Berliner replaced Quiznos, but have the same owners. Believe it or not, these "corporate" eateries are owned and operated by locals.

But really, sometimes, you just want a sandwich. It's not some huge political decision made by scared and brain-dead non-city dwellers. Also, they have free re-fills on fountain drinks.

Time for lunch.
Posted by Medina on December 22, 2010 at 11:39 AM · Report this
I had high hopes for the Berliner, but I found it disappointing. Chicken was super dry. Honestly, it felt kind of like a German/Turkish themed Quizno's. I'll try it again just to make sure I didn't hit it at a bad time. And it's certainly a bit better than Quizno's. But for this sort of rolled sandwich, the Falafel truck in Georgetown is a much higher fidelity experience. It's worth the trip. Just had one yesterday. Falafel sandwich is better than the meat one there imho.

Man, I miss that middle eastern sandwich dude on Broadway (in the convenience store near Urban Outfitters that has also housed some pizza joints). It's a shame he got detained/deported, because he could make one hell of a middle eastern sandwich (baked his own flatbread, made amazing mango chutney, etc.). He was an artist with food.

Beyond that, if you are going to eat a meat sandwich in Pioneer Square, I don't know why anyone would go anywhere besides Salumi (except maybe the line out the door).

I always end up trying these other local sandwich places when they get a good review. But most of them end up being maybe one click above a Subway, Jimmy John's, Quizno's, or the deli counter at the QFC. I know there are a lot of these places on the east coast too, as I used to live there. But the truth is, they weren't good out there, and they aren't good here either. You can certainly get a big sandwich at most of these places. But you rarely get a good sandwich there.

Posted by j-lon on December 22, 2010 at 11:58 AM · Report this
kerfuffle 13
Thanks for the heads-up on this place! I popped in and grabbed sammiches for myself and a co-worker today and was mightily impressed! The Philly is perfect. The onions are so thin and so completely cooked you can barely detect their presence except for the amazing flavor they add. Just the way I like it!
And the staff is great! Super personable and friendly. The pipsqueak working behind the counter was a dollface.
Posted by kerfuffle on December 22, 2010 at 2:41 PM · Report this
A little disappointed that both parts of this story left out Grand Central Bakery, by far the oldest sandwich slinger in Pioneer Square. Love their regular menus (Obama was onto something with the Turkey Chutney), and they also have fun seasonal specials. I was ready to give up meat for their Tofu Cubano.
Posted by sea-food on December 23, 2010 at 10:42 AM · Report this
Calozzi's is great! Totally amazing & authentic Philly cheesesteak. Late night after drinking - it's the best.
Posted by Confluence on December 23, 2010 at 7:39 PM · Report this
Awesome food
Posted by Bristol Pa! on April 14, 2011 at 8:55 AM · Report this

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