Better latke than never. by Meg van Huygen
Meg van Huygen’s “Sub Missives” column writes love letters to the Seattle area’s best sandwiches. Know a hot sub? Write to us about it @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
First of all, I’m delinquent for not covering this sandwich during Hanukkah and I know that. I had not learned of it yet. We all regret the error.
Okay. People keep telling me to eat the sandwiches at a food truck called Napkin Friends, which slays me every time I remember it, and so it was on my Sandwich List, but then the truck went on hiatus sometime in the fall, so I was like “Oops! Oh, well!” What I didn’t know is that A.) It has a freaking LATKE SANDWICH, or I would’ve hustled, and B.) that it’s the same menu as Schmaltzy’s Delicatessen on Leary Way. That’s their truck. The latke press sandwich comes from there.
This is where you take a sandwich and throw the bread away and use two latkes instead of bread. If you’re not familiar, latkes are Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, and they’re hashbrown patties but more… so. much. more fried, more potatoey. Fluffier inside. So, a latke sando. And then Schmaltzy’s sticks the whole thing in a sandwich press so the outer edges of the latkes are sheer and flat, like bread would be. They do a pastrami and Gruyère (“The O.G”), a lox and cream cheese (“The Schmear”), a reimagined Cubano with pork shoulder, bologna, Swiss, and pickles (“The Jewbano”), and a veggie sando with apples, brie cheese, and caramelized onion (“The Classic Combo”).
Turns out, all four of the latke press sandwiches at Schmaltzy’s are fucking fire, but I’m especially taken with the Classic Combo—the brie, apple, and caramelized onion. With each bite, I kept marveling at how sweet and lovely and unblemished and HUGE the apple slices were. The jammy onions give some umami and some balance to the creamy brie, and there’s a fistful of fresh spinach in there, I don’t know, for health. It’s sweet and sour, creamy and sharp, greasy savory from the latkes but also vegetable-forward, like eating a big beautiful handheld salad. This thing’s a whole experience.
It’s important to point out that the latkes are pristinely crisp and delicious on their own, but they’re also here to do a job—to hold the sandwich goodies together—and they’re killing it. Never disintegrated, never got sogged out by the saucy sandwich fillings, stayed crunchy and light throughout. You worked hard, little latkes.
The geniuses behind this thing are Jessica and Johnny Silverberg, who opened Schmaltzy’s Delicatessen in late 2019. They’ve been switching between the Napkin Friends truck and the brick-and-mortar shop variously as the pandemic ebbs and swells. Their space on Leary is darling, done in white tile and primary-colored accents, with a vague MTA subway station theme and bright word murals. When I asked Johnny whether it was specifically a New York-style deli, an East-Coast deli in general, a Jewish deli, or a little of each, he said, “it’s whatever we feel like making it each day.” Jessica added, “Yeah, it’s not strictly one theme–there’s pork all over the menu, so we’re obviously not a kosher deli. Our slogan is ‘Steeped in tradition but not stuck in it.'”
Case in point: making sandwiches out of latkes. Here’s a fun informational video about the origin story of the latke press sandwich, starring Johnny:
That said, the New York shtick here is pretty strong. They carry Dr. Brown’s and New York Seltzer and the elusive black-and-whites, very hard to find in Seattle: they’re cake-/cookie hybrids with a buttery-crisp outside and a soft inside that shares qualities with madeleines, capped with that iconic, snappy half-chocolate/half-vanilla icing. Straight out of the display case at Peter Pan Donut and Pastry in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Not literally.) There’s rugelach and chocolate babka too, and of course, they do regular East Coast-style deli sandwiches as well as bagels and espresso. I got diabetes from looking at the New York Seltzer font but ordered a bottle of black cherry anyway, and of course, it was way, way too much—the ghost of 8-year-old me disagrees—but a couple sips really did add some real NYC presence to the meal. This place, aforementioned, is an experience.
Honorable mention: My boyfriend got the Reuben-esque pastrami latke press sandwich, and good god. “This is a steak,” he announced when he unwrapped it. We’re all accustomed to thin-sliced pastrami in our lives and I just assumed, but this is a big-ass, uncut hunk of pastrami with Swiss cheese and Mama Lil’s Peppers and thousand island and some arugula, barely contained between two gorgeously greasy latkes. Like a prime rib dinner, with your meaty main and skillet-fried potatoes and your side salad, except all slapped together into a packet. It even has the horseradish cream. Très Wedgwood Broiler. My dainty apples-and-cheese sandwich was a scoop of peach sorbet compared to the dude’s luscious, gooey, but very serious fucking sandwich.
“Oh, man, this is so bad for you,” Stephen moaned as he took another bite. “Meant as high praise, of course.” He had hearts in his eyes the whole time.
We’d taken one look at these luxuriant creations on our trays and were quite sure there was no way we could finish them, but in the end, we demolished every scrap. I nabbed the butt end of Stephen’s kosher dill and the last bite of coleslaw, just to make absolute sure the plates were clean. And we weren’t even hungry going in, so if we can do it, you can do it.