In The Lexicon of Real American Food, Jane and Michael Stern lament that no one has catalogued all the sandwiches in America made on tubular lengths of bread, and that there is no complete dictionary to explain their names. Sure there are po' boys, banh mi, Cuban sandwiches, hoagies, and subs. A lot of tubular sandwiches get their names because of what they resemble: Subs, for example, resemble submarines. So what the hell is a grinder? According to the Sterns, "The sandwich known as the grinder throughout southern New England is supposed to have gotten its name because one must grind one's teeth to eat it."
At Grinders in Shoreline, the sandwiches earn this name and reputation. Bread ranges from chewy Italian sandwich rolls to tough yet tender ciabatta, but all the grinders have one thing in common: They will give your jaw a workout. These things must weigh at least a pound, if not two. And packed with everything from salamis, spicy roasted peppers, and caramelized onions, to housemade meatballs and sausage, the jocular workout is worth the effort, as you bite into the juicy meat and flavorful sauces.
The sandwiches aren't cheap--most are between $10-12. But they are truly enough for a hearty meal plus leftovers, or enough to share between two people. Two of the most popular sandwiches on the menu are the Gilbano and the Dipper. The Dipper is packed with roast beef, made in-house, plus portabello mushrooms, and caramelized onions on a warm ciabatta bread, spread with horseradish and melted cheese. Served with a side of au jus, it's a drippy, dippy, meaty mess of a sandwich, but worth every bite.
The Gilbano is a highbrow cheesesteak sandwich (owner Mitch Gilbert is a Pennsylvania native). Thinly sliced steak is grilled with sweet and spicy peppers, garlic and caramelized onions. This mixture mingles all the flavors together and is added to some tangy gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese on an Italian roll. For something more traditional, there are sausage or meatball sandwiches lathered in bright and fresh marinara sauce. Can't decide between the two? Get a SauBall--which gives you a little bit of sausage and a little bit of meatballs, but still enough to make this sandwich a fork and knife affair.
Despite its location on Aurora Avenue--between a motel and a tire shop--Grinders is quite charming inside. The dark wood tables and chairs are looked over by a jazz era mural on one wall. There's live music on Saturday nights and beer available in bottles and wine available on tap. Proletariat wines are on tap for $7 a glass or $28 a bottle (Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier), and bottled beer comes from as nearby as Edmonds' American Brewing Company's IPA and Oatmeal Stout to as far as the Czech Republic's Krusovice and Belgium's Chimay.
According the restaurant's web site, "The term 'Grinders' can be traced back to the east coast, where, during WWII, Italian Immigrants set up sandwich shops close to the shipyards. These supersized sandwiches were a favorite of the hard-working men who ground rivets off the warships. The friendly shop owners referred to these men as grinders and the ever-popular sandwiches also came to be known as Grinders. In addition to the tradition, true grinders must utilize fresh and bold ingredients like olive oil, garlic, marinated peppers and onions, basil, the finest salumi, made fresh on the spot."
Italian riveters and jaw-numbing sandwiches aside, the food at Grinders in Shoreline is fresh, spicy, filling, and satisfying. I think both Italian immigrants and the Sterns alike would agree.