You have to be (1) crazy, (2) stupid, or (3) really, really good at your job to sell a ham-and-pork sandwich when your restaurant is about a hundred feet from the front door of Paseo.
The owner of Dot's Delicatessen in Fremont, Miles James, doesn't seem to be crazy, nor is he stupid. He doesn't try to compete with Paseo's cracktacular Cuban sandwich (one of the best in the city). He makes his own kind of sandwich out of house-smoked meat, house-made pickles, Gruyère, and mustard tucked into a sandwich roll from Macrina ($9). As with just about everything else at Dot's, the meat is the star of the show: The pork is thick and ornamented with delicious bolts of juicy fat, the ham is smoky and tender. It's a sandwich that is, in its own way, just as good as Paseo's.
It's rare that the meat in a sandwich becomes the focal point, but that seems to be the mission statement at Dot's. Compare their Reuben ($8) to the Reubens you'll find at most delis, where the meat can barely be found under all the sauerkraut and dressing. Dot's Reuben is relatively lean, and the focus is entirely on the corned beef, which is thick and salty and, while drier than the soaked-through meat you'll find in most Reubens, still moist and hearty.
James, a taciturn, muscular man who resembles a cross between Liev Schreiber and Henry Rollins, came up through the Seattle restaurant world, starting the hard way as a short-order cook at Glo's. Then he worked at Campagne and Union and, after a stint in New York City, wound up at Cremant. "I just realized that none of those places are around anymore," he says, adding, "makes me feel old." He opened Dot's on August 1. James is throwing himself into the place, and his wife, Robin Short, is assisting at the counter—she's a graphic designer by trade, he says, but she's "helping me get set up." Dot's feels downright autobiographical—James named it after his grandmother. With its friendly, efficient counter service, it's as casual and simple as Glo's, but the quality of ingredients and the vision behind the menu evokes the fancier restaurants on James's résumé.
With the occasional exception brought in from Zoe's Meats, Dot's staff produces the meats on-site. All the sausages, pâtés, and terrines on Dot's menu (and in the gorgeous deli case) are made in the back. The eggs and chickens and rabbits are locally farmed. James says he wants to serve fancy ingredients cheaply and unpretentiously. He's succeeded.
Consider the BLT. The lettuce and tomatoes are excellent, and so is the thick grilled sourdough, but the bacon is what makes it an exceptional sandwich. It's a peppery, meaty cut of bacon that hasn't, refreshingly, been cured within an inch of its life. You can tell it originates from the same animal that Dot's pork comes from. There's not much to it; it's just really good bacon.
The sides display the same commitment to freshness and simplicity. Most surprising was the celery root soup ($6 a bowl), a creamy equal partnership of celeriac and milk with a surprisingly dense consistency; if you swirl a spoon through the bowl, the soup retains the shape of the swirl indefinitely. It's hearty and dense and fresh. And the collard greens ($6), served in a piping-hot bowl, still behave like greens and not like the sopping-wet slime you get in many restaurants—there's some snap to the spine. The collard greens are also about 50 percent pork, with slabs of bacon and more of that juicy fat mixed in with the vegetation. It's a salty and fatty—but still vegetal—side.
With Dot's french fries, James says he's trying to capture the joy of the dearly missed Frites stand that was attached to Neumos (it's now Pike Street Fish Fry). They're not as good as Frites' were—nobody's fries are as good as Frites' were—but they're a good start: light and fluffy ("We soak them a long time, a really long time," James says), and begging for more inventive sauces than the ketchup Dot's provides.
Still: It's hard to waste your time with (the admittedly excellent) sides when the meat is so goddamned good. The sausages at Dot's are good enough to dissuade you from eating street-cart sausages ever again (except maybe from the Seattle Sausage Company cart in Sodo, which James founded before Dot's). The spicy Italian sausage ($8) snaps when you bite into it, and you can taste the quality of the meat. Fennel and cracked pepper dot the interior, and every bite has a slightly separate, distinct taste. There are no fillers or leftover meats here; a sausage made with top-quality pork is as distinguishable from a regular old supermarket sausage as great sex is distinguishable from an insincere hug.
James says he'd like to expand the range of Dot's further than the lunch counter he and his lively staff have created. Though the menu now includes a happy hour from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., with plated items like steak frites and steak tartare, he'd like to shove all the tables in the place together into a 14-top and start serving five-course meals to dinner parties, as well as providing more dinner items. He just hasn't found the time, he says, because it's been so busy. Every time I visited Dot's over the last week, customers were jostling for seats and eating from their plastic baskets while standing up. Turns out, people recognize quality when they see it.