By Brian Spencer
There isn’t much to Saltie.
In Williamsburg’s ocean of undersized cafes and restaurants, this no-frills sandwich shop from celebrated chef-owner Caroline Fidanza (Diner) cuts a fairly nondescript swath in its tiny eight-seat space on Metropolitan Avenue, just around the corner from Havemeyer Street. Its design and ambience is clean, simple, perhaps even somewhat de rigueur for the area: think exposed brick walls, white wooden paneling, tin ceiling, and a light indie-rock soundtrack. There are no bathrooms, no booze, it’s closed by 6 p.m., and often packed to the point of discomfort during the prime weekday lunch hours, particularly now that the “secret” is out amongst the area’s growing stroller set.
That not-so-secret secret is Saltie’s small menu, a fanciful pastiche of sandwiches, soups, and sweet and savory baked goods that at first blush seems as nondescript as its design. There’s good reason, however, why Saltie has been slammed most days since its debut in 2009, and why with only a week to revisit all my favorite spots in Williamsburg — where I lived for more than a decade until relocating (for now) to Singapore — that I’ve already lunched here twice and will likely do so again. The sandwiches are sick, and while I’m always loathe to wade into bloated hyperbole, I dare say they’re the neighborhood’s best (with all due respect to legendary Graham Avenue Meats & Deli, a different class of sandwich shop).
Ranging from $9 – $11 each — roughly $3 more than your average deli sandwich — Saltie’s heaving sandwiches are the casual equivalent of artfully plated haute cuisine, with clear and creative thought given to ingredients that within a single sandwich provide varying flavor, texture, and color profiles. Take, for example, the insanely satisfying Scuttlebutt, a gloriously messy mix of capers, hard-boiled egg, feta, pickled veggies, olives, sea salt, and aioli stuffed between two slices of rich focaccia; this week I’ve been jamming on the Clean Slate, a loosely Mediterranean-style wrap with naan bread generously packed with hummus, bulghur, happy pickled veggies, yogurt sauce, fresh greens, and sesame seeds. The Balmy, Saltie’s take on Vietnamese banh mi, and The Captain’s Daughter, made with sardines, salsa, and pickled egg, are the only non-vegetarian sandwiches on the menu.
Savories and sweets change regularly, but expect everything from ricotta cake and apple galette to squash pockets, chocolate pistachio cookies, and chocolate brioche. Bear with the cliche — whatever looks or sounds good at Saltie is virtually guaranteed to also taste good, so order at will with confidence. My personal favorites? The Clean Slate, Scuttlebutt, and Ship’s Biscuit.
Eating well is a way of life in Singapore, but there are some foods I dearly miss. Saltie, I’ve missed you.
Saltie is located at 378 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 718-387-4777. Open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. If you manage to save room for non-Saltie dessert, stop by Momofuku Milk Bar next door for a compost cookie or cereal milk soft serve ice cream.