Miles and his wife from Dot's Deli.jpg
Photo by Claire Kelly Nelson
Miles James and Robin Short are the Mom-and-Pop behind the counter at Dot's Deli in Fremont.
OK, we're calling this


Finally! A Dream Deli in Seattle! Meet the Mom-and-Pop Behind Dot's

Miles and his wife from Dot's Deli.jpg
Photo by Claire Kelly Nelson
Miles James and Robin Short are the Mom-and-Pop behind the counter at Dot's Deli in Fremont.
OK, we're calling this week's Grillaxin in from Cloud 9 because we're so damn happy about the arrival of Dot's Deli, the super-cool meat market/sandwich shop/soon-to-be dinner destination.

This is a true Mom-and-Pop place, with chef Miles James running the kitchen and his wife, Robin Short, manning the cash register up front. It's a cozy venue, where Rainier Tall Boys are part of the decor and they serve the best Reuben this side of Kenny & Zuke's in PDX. The quality of the food on the ever-changing menu has a lot to do with the fine-dining background of the chef, who has spent years forging meaty relationships.

SW: Tell us about the dream that fueled this delicious project. And who's Dot?

"Dot" is Dorothy Iman James, my grandmother on my father's side. She is a big part of who I am.

Read more on the jump!

After cooking in so many fine dining restaurants, I wanted to create a place that made good food more approachable and somewhere you go to get really quality food without all the fuss. A place that is all about the food and not the show.

What's your culinary background?

My first cooking job was at a diner on Capitol Hill called Glo's when I was 17. The owner got me really interested in food and convinced me that I should go to culinary school--so I enrolled in Seattle Central's Culinary Arts program. After graduating I thought (as many do) that I was an accomplished cook, but quickly realized I didn't know anything.

I used to watch Great Chefs on PBS and wanted to learn how to make the food I saw those chefs making. I eventually worked my way through the kitchen at Campagne, where I learned a lot about French fine dining; then Union, which was awesome because we changed the menu nearly every day and I got to work with a lot of ingredients that I hadn't used before. All the cooks at Union pushed each other to become better and more innovative--that restaurant turned out a lot of good cooks and I'm proud to have been a part of it.

From there I went to Gramarcy Tavern in New York City (a place I had always dreamed of working at since I began cooking). Shortly after moving back to Seattle, Cremant opened and I had the opportunity to work there. This was the place where I really got interested in charcuterie. I realized that classic food is classic for a reason--you don't always have to put your own twist on everything, and often times the simplest food is the best, especially when it's done right.

Has it been hard to find local ranchers?

It's not as hard as it used to be. In my experience, food was always about using the freshest and most seasonal ingredients but the source of the meat was secondary, but that's changed. For the most part cooks are more than willing to help each other out with good local resources. I don't try and find a farm or ranch that no one else is using, just ones that are raising there animals responsibly. Many of the smaller farms don't produce enough to deal with a distributor, so they are happy to work with you if you put a little effort in on your end.

Can you really taste the difference between meat from a small farm vs. agribusiness? Why is that? What makes it so different?

Most definitely. When an animal is stressed due to living conditions or overcrowding the meat, quality goes down. Things like bruising and broken bones don't need to happen, and also ruin the meat. Hormones and feeds also change the flavor, and are given to animals to make them grow faster with less space. I'm not going to go on a huge rant, but an animal that has been allowed to grow naturally, eat naturally, and allowed its own space is going to taste better and be better for you than one that hasn't.

What's your favorite sandwich?

BBQ pork Banh Mi from Little Saigon Deli on Jackson--at least two at a time.

Why is it so damn hard to find a good Reuben in Seattle?

I don't know--people are very particular about Reubens and I almost didn't put it on the menu because of it. Using really quality ingredients is the key. I take my sandwiches as seriously as my foie gras. You can't just slop something together and expect it to taste good.

What are your big-picture hopes/dreams? A bunch of Dot's all over the map?

No, just one at 43rd and Fremont. I wouldn't mind it getting a little bigger, though. I'm planning on having a dinner menu starting in October, as well as offering some sausage-making classes.

On the front-of-the-house end, your wife is such a gracious presence at the counter. How does she handle cranky customers?

Robin is pretty awesome and a genuinely sweet person. We do, however, go by the motto "The customer is always right, some of the time." You can never make everyone happy, and we don't expect to. Some people expect us to have things we don't or do things differently than we do, but that is life.

What should someone order the first time they come in?

I like to encourage people to try something they've never tried before--like some of my pates. My favorite thing is when someone orders steak tartare for the first time and they always love it!

Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin Q&A for a recipe from Dot's Deli.

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