Seattle just got back a former resident, and sandwich lovers should be rejoicing. Alex Pemoulie and her New Jersey-native husband Kevin Pemoulie have set up Mean Sandwich (1510 N.W. Leary Way, 789-9999) right next to Peddler Brewing in Ballard. Before I go into more detail, let’s take a moment to applaud the genius of opening a sandwich joint in an area with more than a dozen breweries. I mean, duh!
The couple recently moved from the East Coast, where both worked for the legendary David Chang at Momofuku (Kevin as chef de cuisine, Alex as director of finance) and owned their own Jersey City restaurant. That venture featured tasting menus, but the couple decided to go a simpler route here. But simple, in this case, is simply divine.
The menu is abbreviated: seven sandwiches, one that changes; fried and baked potato skins that come plain or “taco style” with ground beef and fixings; and a dessert of bread pudding made from leftover sandwich buns. I can’t imagine ever stepping foot in the no-frills space without ordering the signature Mean Sandwich. Piled with thickly cut corned beef (the kind you’d eat with a side of cabbage on St. Patty’s Day), pickled red cabbage, and mustard, it gets demonically delicious with the addition of maple syrup and mint. Somehow it all works, and those occasional sparks of mint leave you wondering how the heck they came up with something so odd yet effective. Better than a corned-beef deli sandwich and not as overly sauced as a Reuben, you just need to taste it to get it. The sooner the better.
Another one you’re going to wonder about, but should definitely try: the steak tartare club. Picture a BLT—the bacon, the tomato, the toasted bread (the only sandwich here that isn’t served on Macrina Bakery seeded rolls)—then add small jewels of steak tartare. All those club guideposts are there, but it throws you for a loop with a French bistro basic, though even that is transformed by slathering it in a mayo sauce with yuzu kosho (a fermented Japanese seasoning which combines citrusy yuzu peel with chilies and salt).
The sandwich of the day when we visited was ham and collard greens—the ham thickly cut like the corned beef, the collards sharing space with pickled yellow and orange bell peppers and, of course, the yellow mustard that is a recurring condiment. The vegetarian sandwich, “Midnight at the Oasis,” is not as successful—perhaps because it’s too ambitious. While I loved the eggplant cutlet, packing in harissa beets, Persian pickles, and hummus makes for an unwieldy sandwich, the chunks of beet falling all over the table. The hummus, a thin smear on the bun, gets completely lost. I’d love to see that eggplant cutlet find its way into another iteration of a vegetarian sandwich. Sandwiches I didn’t try on this round include a chicken cutlet and a daily fish option, served with celery root slaw, fried lemons, pickled jalapeños, cilantro, and lettuce (an intriguing premise). For every one, the price point is great: $9–$12.
About those skins: We went with the simple salt-and-pepper version, and they’re right on. Crispy, well-seasoned, and smaller than a traditional potato skin, they’re a fun alternative to fries. My daughter loved them, and, though a small kid’s menu features a grilled cheese, a ham and cheese, and a chicken cutlet sandwich, she bit right into the steak tartare club.
The space itself is sparse and features a couple of booths, seating that wraps around the windows, wall art consisting of the shop’s logo—a red mouth, opened wide to expose a full set of teeth—and a whale ship from local artist Kyler Martz. On a Saturday, mid-afternoon, all seats were full, and a line at the counter to order was well on its way. It’s not easy to do something as basic as a handful of sandwiches really well, but the Pemoulies have figured out the calculus to downright mean ones.