The pork chop sandwich is a juicy 9-ounce bone-in pork chop on

The pork chop sandwich is a juicy 9-ounce bone-in pork chop on a bun. All Photos by Morgen Schuler

Porkchop & Co., newly opened in Ballard a couple of months ago, is utterly unique in concept—and that’s both a good thing and a hindrance. The best way I can describe it: a hybrid deli–meets–farm-to-table restaurant with unique sandwiches, salads, and sides—as well as a pared-down breakfast and dinner menu with prebottled booze.

The space is airy, with high ceilings, blond wood, and concrete—a decor Seattleites have become programmed to associate with trendy restaurants. So it’s a bit jarring when you come in and realize that you need to order at the counter. There you must digest all the options from a large board, divided into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another chalkboard on an opposite wall lists your drink choices: beer, wine (currently heavy on summer-friendly white Bordeaux and vinho verde), and premade cocktails like gin gimlets, Manhattans, and negronis in small, clear glass bottles with handwritten labels—a playful touch that seems like a riff on a deli soda.

Lunch has the most items, the majority of them sandwiches. But they’re not your typical cheesesteak or Italian sub (though there is a pulled pastrami). Instead think smoked beet, cauliflower, smoked trout, apple melt—and of course the pork chop. According to Porkchop & Co.’s website, owner Paul Osher comes from a line of kosher butchers and worked at a corner deli during his college days. He began making his signature sandwiches at the Santa Monica Farmers Market using house-cured meats and ingredients from the market.

It’s that style of sandwich that predominates at Porkchop & Co., Osher’s first Seattle venture, where layered between bread and meat from the finest farms and establishments (like Skylight Farms, Painted Hills, Tots & Trotters, and Olympic Provisions), you’ll find surprises such as housemade pickled onions, kimchi, or a schmear of duck-liver mousse. Yet despite the consciously sourced ingredients and the decadent delicatessen, on my four visits there (breakfast, lunch, two dinners), I often found the flavors lacking. Even their housemade kimchi felt like it needed “something.”

Take the porcetta sandwich, for instance. Pork shoulder cooked with thyme and fennel and packed with arugula, pickles, and aioli was shockingly delicate in taste. Served with a side of pork jus (in the fashion of a French dip) flavored with more thyme and other herbs, it spoke wonderfully of the juices from a Thanksgiving turkey—yet it too needed a bit more oomph. A pinch of salt would have likely done the trick. Ditto for the smoked-trout sandwich; the fish was nearly tasteless and barely amped up by the fennel, arugula, and pickled onions.

The pink lady apple melt is a tangy blast on your taste buds.

The apple melt, on the other hand—one of four sandwiches you can still order at dinner—was a tangy blast of pickled Pink Lady apples, Beecher’s cheddar, gruyere, and caramelized onion served on grilled sourdough. I added the country ham for an extra $2. With dinner happy hour in effect (4–6 p.m., $2 off every menu item), it was a well-spent extra couple of bucks. The pork chop sandwich was solid, if still a tad quiet. But where else can you get a juicy 9-ounce bone-in pork chop on a bun? I loved the addition of house pickles, spicy mayo and “salsa verde”—a spread that tasted predominately like cilantro. The whole affair is sort of like a banh mi on steroids.

While I didn’t have the smoked beet or cauliflower sandwiches, I had their dinner counterparts. The smoked-beet puree, a house-smoked beet dip with a few generous dots of Point Reyes blue cheese served with grilled bread, will forever put in doubt any other beet preparation you encounter. Equal parts, sweet, smoky and sharp, you’ll be vying for a fair share with your dining partner. It still won’t seem like enough, so buy some to take home. It’s for sale, as is the house kimchi and strawberry jam. Likewise, the potatoes & cauliflower—roasted fingerlings with spicy cauliflower—was topped with one of the tastiest romesco sauces I’ve had; Osher told me theirs is made with red bell peppers, almonds, sherry, and paprika. While I had high hopes for the “Best Parts of the Chicken”—confit wings and a cracklin with a fermented pepper buffalo sauce—I was underwhelmed. Prepared similarly to sous vide, according to Osher, it made for an incredibly tender wing, but the flavor was lacking, as was the buffalo sauce that could have saved it. The cracklin on top was utter fatty bliss that could rival a New York City Washington Heights bodega’s, but unfortunately it called out the dullness of those “best parts.”

There are usually three or four “plates” on the dinner menu, like half a roast chicken or a pan-roasted salmon, but I fell in love with the spaetzle served with delicious tiny beech mushrooms, red cabbage, and a poached egg on top. The tiny al dente dumplings made for a nice deviation from traditional pasta, and the mushrooms’ earthiness permeated the entire dish, which often doesn’t happen when chefs try to use them as a flavoring agent.

“I fell in love with the spaetzle served with delicious tiny beech mushrooms, red cabbage and poached egg.”

Back to the concept: I love that there’s no place quite like this in Seattle. And the trend for very specialized eating experiences seems to bode well for it. Plus, lunch and brunch (when you can get things like kimchi hash and a vegan bowl of roasted kale and grits, as well as pastries during the week from Laura Pyle’s Parchment pop-up) feel busy and well suited to the order-at-the-counter space. It’s just dinner, which was recently added, that leans toward awkward, because you’re ordering entree-style meals from a counter or else eating a sandwich, which I generally care to do only at lunch. There’s also not much ambience come evening—probably due to the reasons I just cited. But there could be worse things than sitting outside or in the soaring interior on a warm summer night sharing a bottled Manhattan over a bowl of spaetzle, a charcuterie plate, and pickles. Porkchop & Co. 5451 Leary Ave. N.W., 257-5761, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Wed.–Fri., 8:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Sun.

Top: the plat de resistance. Bottom left: a standout smoked-beet puree. Bottom right: Order at the counter.

Top: the plat de resistance. Bottom left: a standout smoked-beet puree. Bottom right: Order at the counter.

Delicious spaetzle with mushrooms.

Delicious spaetzle with mushrooms.