Olive oil cake and sardine sandwiches have been enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately: the oily little fish, having attained a measure of respect thanks to the efforts of restaurants like Marea and Maialino (not to mention the wonderfully named Sardinistas), are no longer seen strictly as the province of banh mi, while olive oil cake is fast becoming as indigenous to coffee shops as free wi-fi.
But it’s relatively rare to find a place that sells both, which is why we couldn’t resist waging a double-whammy Battle of the Dishes between Saltie and Glass Shop, two diminutive Brooklyn storefronts that share a pleasantly low-key vibe and at least two menu items. So how did they stack up against one another?
First up was Saltie, whose sardine sandwich is more commonly known as the Captain’s Daughter. An entire tin of sardines is emptied onto a square of house-baked foccacia and smothered with pickled eggs, capers, and enough olive oil-tossed parsley and scallions to put a farmers’ market to shame, and crowned with another slice of foccacia. It’s a vibrant, outsized mess that’s a challenge to consume and an utter joy to digest. Salty, oily, briney, and herbaceous, it elevates sardines to a place of previously unimagined voluptuousness.
Glass Shop’s sardine sandwich was a completely different kettle of fish, so to speak. Which is not a bad thing. Housed in a fat length of baguette, it was a more restrained, not to mention portable affair: the sardines sat between a slick of mayonnaise and a scattering of (surprisingly fresh) tomatoes, and were splashed with a bit of olive oil. Though it lacked the visual and gustatory fireworks of its competitor, it was a remarkably satisfying sandwich, with each of its few ingredients shining bright and true. The olive oil in particular gave it a buttery, grassy aftertaste, and the bread was that perfect crusty-outside-squishy-inside hybrid. And fewer ingredients meant fewer distractions from the sardines, which were abundant.
Altogether, Glass Shop’s sandwich was like the quieter, more plain-spoken sibling to Saltie’s flamboyant, larger than life Captain’s Daughter: both have their charms, which are very much in the mouth of the beholder. But if you’re going to actually travel for a sardine sandwich (and really, who wouldn’t?), then we’d have to say that as much as we love the Glass Shop’s sandwich, it’s the Captain’s Daughter that’s more worth the trip.
Next up: olive oil cake.
Like its Captain’s Daughter, Saltie’s olive oil cake is not for the faint of palate or appetite: about two inches thick, it’s riddled with anise seeds and seasoned liberally with salt. You could almost put cold cuts on it and call it a meal. On its own, though, it’s delicious, if a tiny bit dry around the edges. There’s enough sweetness to tame the savory notes, and the anise seeds provide crunch and licorice notes that play well with the olive oil. The crumb is dense yet tender, and the olive oil itself is very, well, olivey, giving the cake a fat, round flavor.
Glass Shop’s olive oil cake, like its sardine sandwich, was a quieter experience than Saltie’s: not only was it less monolithic in size, its flavor didn’t reach out an grab you by the neck. It had more sweetness than Saltie’s, as well as a very moist and tender crumb. It was more similar to regular pound cake in flavor, and left a midly sugary aftertaste. It was understated and pleasant, and would more likely win over olive oil cake skeptics than Saltie’s. Like the sardine sandwiches, each of these cake has its abundant charms, which undoubtedly attract suitors with particular tastes. But our tastes run to the more off-kilter and savory, so Saltie again has the upper hand.
So, Saltie wins both categories, though we’re still feeling a lot of love for Glass Shop.
378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
766 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn