Entering Saltie for the first time one crisp fall afternoon, I overheard the following conversation between two sandwich makers: “I like curly parsley better than any other kind,” observed one. “It has loft and volume.” “No,” replied the other. “Flat-leaf parsley is more earthy and chewy, and in a sandwich, chewy is good.” At Saltie—a serious new restaurant masquerading as a sandwich shop—you get the idea that this sort of discourse goes on all the time.
The founders are three women (Caroline Fidanza, Elizabeth Schula, and Rebecca Collerton) who once worked at Marlow & Sons, a Williamsburg temple of locavorism and sustainability. Each brings her unique personality to the mix, and elements of those personalities worm their way into the very unusual sandwiches. The place is small, with fewer than 10 barstools, and a big chalkboard also lists baked goods, homemade ice creams, one daily salad, one daily soup, and beverages (the most refreshing: mint iced tea). The prize seat looks out through the front window onto Metropolitan Avenue. From that perch, you can watch the Williamsburg populace prance by.
The name of the restaurant is Brit slang for “sailor,” and many of the sandwiches have nautical themes. Nearly all begin with the signature bread of the establishment, a bumpy and bouncy focaccia that is split horizontally, resulting in the top half being thicker and crustier than the bottom. We’re on the frontiers of sandwich technology here, so how you eat one from Saltie is entirely up to you. The bottom soaks up more of the sloppy juices, so one way to eat the thing is to flip the top over and pile most of the ingredients thereon, making an open-face sandwich; the bottom then functions as a soggy chaser. Trying to eat one of Saltie’s sandwiches like a sandwich is usually futile.
My favorite is the “ship’s biscuit” ($6). The filling roughly mixes runny half-scrambled eggs and bone-white ricotta; the cheese is so fresh it tastes like a cow must be parked in the kitchen. The “captain’s daughter” ($8) designates a wild tussle of canned sardines, pickled eggs, and a kinky green herb sauce. (“They’re very good canned sardines,” one of Saltie’s women solemnly intoned when I asked if the sandwich featured house-cured fish.) The messiest sandwich of all, the “scuttlebutt” ($9), contains boiled egg, feta, capers, calamata olives, slices of radish, pickles, and homemade aioli (garlic mayo). The combination of flavors is enthralling, but the thought of how stupid I’d look eating a sandwich with a knife and fork in the front window prevented me from ordering it on another occasion. Call me thin-skinned.
Indeed, dread of the bread prevents Saltie from being as serviceable as, say, a deli, simply because you can’t eat a Saltie sandwich on the run. There is one sandwich, however, not made with the regulation focaccia. The “clean slate” ($8) deposits a wild variety of ingredients—including hummus, quinoa, red pickled-vegetable relish, and yogurt, along with the parsley mentioned earlier—in a homemade naan. The wrapper is much crustier than the naan found in Indian restaurants, and the flavor of the sandwich proves more Middle Eastern than South Asian. Though the “clean slate” is eminently satisfying, it, too, manages to deconstruct as you proceed.
Consistent with the principles of seasonality, diverse ingredients often pop up in your sandwich unexpectedly. One day, there were beautiful yellow romanesco buds in my “scuttlebutt”; another day, some infant arugula lent a welcome bitterness to my “captain’s daughter.” These ingredients also work their way into the single daily soup ($6). On one occasion, it was made with pork and kale, and tasted a little too reheated. Another time, it was an excellent ribollita, made with beautiful Tuscan beans. The roster of soups, salads, and sandwiches changes gradually, so don’t depend on any of the above being available when you visit.
While the sandwiches are often seafaring, the homemade pastries tend to be English landlubbers. Eccles cakes are domed cookies filled with vegetarian mincemeat, and I’ve also enjoyed the lavender-scented shortbread cookies, French-style apple tarts, and a loaf cake made with olive oil, which constitutes a boon to the lactose-intolerant. The homemade ice creams are agreeable, but not spectacular—salty caramel probably being the best. This ice cream flavor really comes alive when incorporated into a dessert called a “car bomb.” But you’re going to have to go to Saltie on your own to find out why it’s so explosive.
Check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, to see more Saltie pictures