Food & Drink

Seattle's Sandwich District

Is Pioneer Square Big Enough for Salumi, Tat's, and Delicatus?

Seattle's Sandwich District

Kelly O

BALANCE, ENORMITY, BRILLIANCE Salumi, Tat’s, and Delicatus want you.

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Pioneer Square is that bum-infested part of town you walk through on the way to a Sounders or Mariners game, or—if you're 21 and of a certain demographic—that place where Tucker got really lit on Jäger bombs that one time and tried to punch the lady cop, who was admittedly a bitch and totally had it coming. The loss of Elliott Bay Book Company, Megan Mary Olander Flowers, and Synapse206 along three blocks of First Avenue in a two-month period hasn't helped with appearances. But, on the plus side, Pioneer Square is undeniably Seattle's Sandwich District.

Maybe it's because there are so many beautiful places within walking distance to stroll with a sandwich—you can tuck a white wax-paper package under your arm like a paperback novel and visit the Waterfall Garden, Occidental Park, or, after a brief and urine-scented moment in the darkness under the viaduct, the waterfront. There are so many urban vistas in and around Pioneer Square that are optimally equipped for staring, and chewing, and contemplation; of course the best sandwiches (the perfect food for sidewalk rumination) would make their homes here.

The twinned poles of sandwich greatness in Pioneer Square are Salumi (309 Third Ave S, 621-8772) and Tat's Delicatessen (115 Occidental Ave S, 264-TATS). They represent the Apollonian and Dionysian ends of the sandwich-making scale. (Bakeman's, the cafeteria-style deli at 122 Cherry Street, is popular, but the sandwiches are so unimaginative that it doesn't earn a place in the pantheon—when it comes to sandwiches, there's classic, and then there's classical.) Salumi is all Apollonian: The meats, cured on-site, are as good as they get in Seattle (and, arguably, the world), and they're paired with just the right amount of cheese and bread—it's as though scientists in the back are performing complex equations on blackboards for the formulation of each sandwich. The Salumi salami ($9) is the ideal cold-cut sandwich, made of several types of cured meats and a creamy pesto spread. Everything is balanced just so, designed to showcase the meat without giving any of the other elements short shrift. Salumi's hot sandwiches are the same marvels of balance, with one glaring problem: Occasionally, they're just not actually hot fresh off the line. I wanted a winter-sausage sandwich ($9.50) to have the same sizzle as a street vendor's hot dog, but instead it was tepid. The sausage was delicious—fatty and spicy and tender—but by the time you've walked it up to Hing Hay Park in the International District, it's room temperature.

Not so at Tat's. Its steak and cheese with Cheez Whiz—a miracle of salt and fat and fried peppers and onions ($7.75 for an eight-inch, $11.75 for a footlong)—comes out of the wrapper almost too hot to eat. (The Cheez Whiz, you'll swear, is still bubbling from the heat.) There's nothing scientific or precise about Tat's enormous, sloppy sandwiches; they're just slapped together with the belief that more is always better. And at Tat's, that's just about right. Tat's also serves french fries, but that's kind of a waste; the fries are great (little salty splinters of potato, crispy and fried to within an inch of their lives), but there's no way they can compete with these gorgeous, enormous sandwiches.

Tat's is about to move half a block to 157 Yesler Way, where it'll have indoor seating for five times as many people, beer and wine, and extended hours. If it can sustain its exceptionally sloppy quality, it will be a welcome dinnertime addition to a Pioneer Square that has suffered too much subtraction of late.

So where does new Pioneer Square sandwich shop Delicatus (103 First Ave S, 623-3780) fall in this sandwich pantheon? The delicatessen, tucked into a storefront formerly held by a disappointing barbecue restaurant, doesn't look like any other Pioneer Square business. With its rough-hewn wooden walls and artisan-chic metal-and-wood flair, it looks like Quinn's wandered westward from Capitol Hill, had drunken sex with Jimmy John's on First Avenue, then squatted down and gave birth before staggering shamefacedly home. Decor aside, with neighbors like Salumi and Tat's, you've got to make a compelling case for your sandwich-making existence. And the Olivitto ($8.50) sure doesn't. Like Tat's Italian sandwich, it's an Italian roll (this one crisp and sharp from Essential Baking Company) stacked full of meats. Delicatus's menu boasts of its partnership with Zoe's Meats, but the pepperoni and ham tasted of middling quality, like they could have come from any supermarket deli section—and all the overstuffing in the world isn't enough to make you forget that. The skunky onions on top practically made the sandwich inedible.

However, the Delicatus menu is divided into halves, and one of those halves maps out Delicatus's chance to excel in the Sandwich District. One half of the menu is the Traditionalists, where the straightforward (if cutesily named) sandwiches like the Olivitto, the East Coast Representin' (pastrami to you and me), and the B.L.F-ingT. live. The other half is the more adventurous Progressives menu, and that's where the Fists of Fury ($7.75) resides. The Fists of Fury is a sandwich that justifies Delicatus. Made of a base of glistening, almost-liquid pulled pork, it is topped with cilantro, cucumber, wasabi aioli, and, brilliantly, a very small amount of tobiko caviar. It's one thing to take a bite of a great pulled-pork sandwich. It's another thing entirely to take a bite of a great pulled-pork sandwich piled high with ingredients that add complexity to the pork and send the flavor spiraling into new directions with every bite. And to top the occasional bite with just a hint of brine and ocean is more than brilliant; it's some kind of mad science.

Sometimes the wonder of a sandwich comes from staring at a fridge and assembling disparate parts into a satisfying and unexpected whole. If the owners of Delicatus are smart, they'll continue to emphasize that aspect of sandwich-making, of playing with our expectations. That's territory that Salumi and Tat's haven't covered, and it's a welcome new area of exploration to add to the city's Sandwich District. recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.

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Comments (18) RSS

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kitschnsync 1
Salumi's magic is all in their meat. Personally, I think their sandwiches have too much bread. And the bread is too tough- you take one bite and salami starts shooting out the other side before your chompers can penetrate.

I usually just buy the salami by the pound and make my own. Their meatball subs own, though. (Use a knife and fork.)
Posted by kitschnsync on May 19, 2010 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Grand Central Bakery is up the street, not Essential.
Posted by c on May 19, 2010 at 12:12 PM · Report this
cressona 3
Damn, I hadn't realized Synapse206 had left. Anyone have further details?
Posted by cressona on May 19, 2010 at 3:42 PM · Report this
winterpalace 4
You had to bring Nietzsche into this? Good writing, though. Now I'm hungry.
Posted by winterpalace on May 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM · Report this
secret south 5
If you have not tried the Lox sandwich at Delicatus then you are in for a treat. They smoke their own salmon. And you can't find that at either of the other two spots you mentioned.

These three sandwich shops make for an excellent lunch trifecta for any of us who work in the area. They also help to sooth our sorrows for the loss of the other businesses.
Posted by secret south on May 20, 2010 at 10:56 AM · Report this
Paul Constant 6
@2: Dammit! You're right, of course.

I worked across the street from Grand Central for eight friggin' years. I apologize to you and to Grand Central and to Essential Bakery. We've fixed it online.

Thanks for the catch.

Posted by Paul Constant http:// on May 20, 2010 at 1:44 PM · Report this
Tat's doesn't make original sandwiches. It makes very good South Jersey-style hoagies and steak sandwiches. Delicatus makes a pulled lamb shank sandwich. PULLED LAMB SHANK! Really great.
Posted by Algernon on May 20, 2010 at 3:30 PM · Report this
Grand Central Bakery also makes some damn good sandwiches.
Posted by blueworld on May 20, 2010 at 3:36 PM · Report this
These three places are all fantastic. As a devotee of chicken sandwiches I'll say that Tat's Chicken Parm sub is easily the best chicken parm in the city, and the BBQ chicken sandwich at Delicatus has a great jalapeno kick that elevates it to the next level. Also in the same 3 block radius, Cafe Paloma makes a great chicken panini with a homemade pesto that is really fantastic. God I love sandwiches.
Posted by 07wsf on May 20, 2010 at 9:12 PM · Report this
aardvark 10
Delicatus sucks! Overrated, dry, soulless

Cherry St coffee makes better sandwiches
Posted by aardvark on May 21, 2010 at 10:49 AM · Report this
@10 agreed. The BBQ chicken sandwich I had there was dry, not spicy, and lacking much chicken.
Posted by doug on May 21, 2010 at 11:06 AM · Report this
As the folks at Salumi will tell you (I just got back from getting an always amazing porchetta sandwich), the only sandwich they make their that uses two different kinds of cured meat is their muffo. All of the salami sandwiches use a single kind of salami, which doesn't make them any less amazing.
Posted by jjb on May 21, 2010 at 12:43 PM · Report this
Why isn't anyone wearing gloves? Fucking gross.
Posted by kind3 on May 21, 2010 at 12:52 PM · Report this
victoriastar 14
I went to Delicatus for lunch today and I really liked it. I had the Pavo Diablo: Hickory smoked turkey, sliced avocado, spinach, cilantro, havarti, chipotle aioli and roasted poblano peppers on sourdough. It was wonderful. I should have saved half for later, but instead powered through. Happy belly.

The only suggested improvements would be to hire more than one person for lunchtime table service (it was busy) and maybe toast the sourdough. I am a sucker for toasted bread for my sandwiches. I'll absolutely be back.
Posted by victoriastar on May 21, 2010 at 1:50 PM · Report this
Explorer 15
Agreed that Salumi needs better bread, and less of it.

And this nearly made me spray sandwich all over my screen:

it looks like Quinn's wandered westward from Capitol Hill, had drunken sex with Jimmy John's on First Avenue, then squatted down and gave birth before staggering shamefacedly home.
Posted by Explorer on May 22, 2010 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Essential and Grand Central both have locations on 1st.
Posted by carebear98122 on May 24, 2010 at 12:20 PM · Report this
hey arrdvard, your palet probably had ass on it from the night before. If Delicatus is soulless and it sucks why?? Don't be that guy and explain yourself chump......I have fully enjoyed it everytime
Posted by BeemerOne on May 25, 2010 at 11:38 AM · Report this
Not impressed with Delicatus. Kinda boring for the price. Expected more awesome flavors, but all I got was the same ol' sandwich I could get anywhere else.
Posted by sandwicheater on May 25, 2010 at 2:19 PM · Report this

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