We've already established in this paper that Pioneer Square is Seattle's undisputed Sandwich District. It's long been anchored by the world-class cured meats of Salumi, and Grand Central Bakery has been serving sandwiches on their magnificent bread for more than 40 years. But the past decade or so has seen a remarkable flurry of new neighborhood sandwich shops that rank among the best in town: Tat's, Delicatus, the Berliner. Some aspiring sandwich-makers have left Pioneer Square (the very good Calozzi's cheesesteak shop is no longer on Occidental, opting instead for outlets downtown and in Georgetown) or gone out of business (BuiltBurger just couldn't manage to attract a sufficient audience of gourmet-burger-lovers). Is it possible that Pioneer Square has finally achieved Peak Sandwich Density?
We'll soon find out: Rain Shadow Meats, who you probably already know as the butcher shop with the beautiful case of locally sourced cuts of meat in Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, recently opened up a second location, Rain Shadow Meats Squared, right in the Sandwich District's central artery of Occidental Avenue South. It's an impressive pedigree for a new sandwich challenger, and they certainly started out the right way, with a striking storefront. It might be the most gorgeous sandwich shop in Pioneer Square: a long wooden floor, worn brick walls, a couple of shiny cases packed with gorgeous cuts of bright-red meat, a few counters for diners to eat, and a wide-open space behind the cases and cash registers where butchers go about the business of butchering.
If you think the idea of serving sandwiches in the same airy space where cuts of meat are prepared sounds disgusting, you don't know Rain Shadow. The cases and preparation areas are as clean as a surgeon's operating theater; diners idly chew ham sandwiches even as they watch butchers with impressive forearms cut into slabs of pork with big butcher knives. Vegans who say carnivores wouldn't have the stomach to eat meat if they saw how the (figurative and literal) sausage was made have never been to Rain Shadow, where the uncooked shoulders and legs are sculptures, works of art, objects to admire.
Unsurprisingly, the meat is the focus here. Take the porchetta sandwich ($12), a crusty baguette stuffed full of fatty roast pork and slathered with a pesto sauce. Every aspect of the sandwich seems to point inward, toward the pork flavor: The bread sops up the fat, and the green sauce highlights the freshness of the flavor. This is a sandwich I'd stack against anything the Sandwich District—even the sainted Salumi—has to offer. The pork has a smoky, savory flavor and a juiciness that you can only get out of the freshest cuts of meat, simply prepared.
But not every sandwich here is a knockout: The ham and cheese ($10) is composed of a formidable list of ingredients—smoked ham, a tasty Gruyère, fresh arugula, a dash of mustard, a crisp and surprising small handful of pickled fennel—but it feels too meager for a 10-dollar ham sandwich. To be truly great, a sandwich needs a dominating element, a splash of the unexpected. A few of the items on Rain Shadow Squared's menu don't live up to that expectation. The Zuni ($10) is a centerpiece for Rain Shadow's delicious and pleasantly lean pork shoulder, but the rest of the sandwich—a blanket of arugula, a thick schmear of ricotta cheese—doesn't do enough to match the pork flavor. There's a certain zest missing, a garlic or a crunch or a tang. It's not fair to call the sandwich bland, because the meat is so fucking delicious, but it's still somehow disappointing.
Slightly better than the Zuni is the romesco ($11), a (too-thin) stack of house-made roast beef coated with chèvre and a slathering of romesco, a Spanish nut-and-red-pepper sauce that tastes like a cross between pesto and a red pepper dip. The sandwich still fails to reach up and slap you across the face, but you can feel the breeze of the open hand as it whizzes right by your cheek.
Other sandwiches on the menu are exactly where they need to be. The Rain Shadow Press ($12) is the kitchen-sink item, with roast beef, mortadella, sopresatta, provolone, red pepper, cucumber, and arugula stacked onto ciabatta that is thankfully crisp and not too bready. It's exactly the kind of thick, grab-you-round-the-throat sandwich that the ham and cheese isn't: Each bite is slightly different—spicy, meaty, crisp with vegetables.
Admittedly, a 12-dollar sandwich probably isn't an everyday food. But Rain Shadow is a place to go and do your lunch up right, to take visitors to town, to expense for a business meeting, to splurge when you need something special. A porchetta or a Rain Shadow Press, when combined with a side salad ($2.50 with purchase of sandwich) is a wonderful thing. The house greens ($7 without sandwich) are Caesar-style and pleasant enough, but the fingerling potatoes ($7) make for an especially satisfying potato salad, with bacon, celery, and Dijon mustard. (Skip the marinated kale [$8], which is tangy and crunchy but covered with a thick crust of fine breadcrumbs, giving the whole dish an unpleasant sensation of eating unwashed, dirt-covered greens.) Top the whole meal off with a delicious house-made Seattle Seltzer Celery Soda ($3.50)—this drink puts Jones Soda's celery flavor to shame with its lush, celeriac aftertaste—and you've got yourself a unique, memorable Sandwich District experience.
This article has been updated since its original publication.