I got debauched with a piece of scrambled egg today. I didn’t expect to, but it was there, in between some ricotta and focaccia at Saltie. Some oozed out on my face ultra-creamily, and I didn’t feel disgusted, I felt exalted.
I thought of my friend the poet Michael Broder’s wonderful essay in The Rumpus about being a “sub bottom pig slut cumdump” and how it makes him create poetry.
I don’t remember having ever enjoyed having egg on my face before, but that egg scrambled and touched with ricotta by the cooks at Saltie is so good (even cold) it can get you beyond the disturbing chicken-ovum-on-cheek sensation.
Saltie in Williamsburg, helmed by two stellar women chefs, is a great place to get debauched by a sandwich. The place is beautiful, cheap (for food of this quality), and impeccably sourced with small-farm vegetables, fruits, dairy, eggs, and meat to a degree you’d be hard-pressed to find at any other sandwich shop in the city. The combination of the ingredients and the chefs’ brilliance means the amount of pleasure here is so much greater, the amplitude so much more intense, that even places like Num Pang, Coffeed, and No. 7 Sub pale by comparison.
One sandwich is called The Balmy, with this unlikely list of ingredients: “chicken liver pâté, ham, jalapeños, mayo, pickled veg, sesame seeds” ($12). On my first outing with the sandwich, the chicken liver could only barely be tasted on its own, but was like some sublime jam cementing the ham and pickled vegetables together, aided by the sesame seeds which joined in providing umami and fat (and nuttiness) in perfect counterpoint to the pickliness of spiced, vinegared carrots, mint, parsley, celery, and purple, beet-dyed onions. It’s the finest sandwich I can remember, and the only food I think I could honestly compare to a symphony.
Some downsides: Saltie is a tiny storefront where you have to order at the counter, and it has those high backless stools I almost always hate in a restaurant. They usually mean the place is trying to cram diners in and get them to leave as soon as possible from discomfort (really). But at Saltie, whether because the stools are somehow more comfortable than usual (with maplewood tops over white metal), or because the café is so upbeat and bright-looking, or because I was seduced by the food (most likely), I didn’t believe the chefs ever wanted us to leave.
A large front window lets in lots of sun, and the place is painted with a cheerful blue wave motif throughout the joint on a white background. The name “Saltie” is meant to evoke sailors and the sea, as well as, the chef-owners have variously claimed, their own personalities, their love of the flavor, and a dangerous saltwater crocodile. The little room, which includes eight stools, two counters, and a nice, long, indoor bench, is only open from 10 AM to 6 PM daily. Yet it’s a fabulous date spot for breakfast, brunch or lunch if, as in my relationship, it’s considered erotic in yours to squirt pimenton aïoli at each other from your plates, or watch each other moan from food.
Every day, there are many baked goods on offer, all more intense, interesting, and well-made than you’ll get elsewhere. Something called a “Sophisticated Lady Cake,” a not-small, individual round cake with chocolate ganache frosting, was a little top of a dessert, with what tasted like a jolt of espresso in the sticky, edgy, all-encompassing frosting, and molasses and spices in the cake ($3). A “Chocolate Nudge” cookie was a rich, almost flourless, slightly salty drop cookie with pistachios and bittersweet chocolate chips inside, not at all enormous yet satisfying enough for two ($2.50). Coffee was always excellent and very fresh, though once it had a chicory flavor I missed on the occasions it was absent. I like a loaf cake that tastes like real food, i.e. like it would sustain me for a long walk in the mountains; Saltie’s buttery zucchini bread with pistachios and chocolate ($4) fit the bill and more, like the elves’ *lembas*, which makes the eater feel brave and merry as well as strong enough for the journey.
The only sandwich not named after something having to do with the sea, The Little Chef ($12), was also the only vague disappointment. Made of mortadella, pecorino, and green olive (on focaccia like nearly all the sandwiches), it was tasty and rib-sticking, but not exciting. But The Clean Slate, a near-vegan sandwich of astonishingly garlicky, housemade hummus, bulgur wheat, pickled carrots, red cabbage, onions, scallions and more, with yogurt sauce on naan, had to be the oomphiest hummus sandwich in the city ($11). The strong garlic flavor plus the crunch and snap of the bulgur and vegetables recalled salami, but better.
Every day, there is a salad special (recently, shaved cauliflower with radishes, kohlrabi, almonds, pickled golden raisins, and shallot vinaigrette, $10; instead of cauliflower, the star is sometimes shaved romaine or celery root). There is also a daily special of focaccia pizza, a soup (heritage pork posole the other day, $10), and something called an “egg bowl” (in recent months, the egg bowl has been okonomiyaki, the Japanese bar-food pancake, here made of sweet potatoes and served with smoked whitefish, cabbage, “miso mayo,” pickled radish, sliced radish, and hard-boiled egg ($12). I can’t tell you how much I regret that I didn’t have time to try these on deadline.
The two chefs are Caroline Fidanza, who has been working at farm to table restaurants her entire career, from Savoy to Diner and Marlow and Sons; and openly lesbian Rebecca Collerton, also from Diner, who has recently been wowing diners at the evening incarnation of Saltie, a British-Indian farm to table restaurant called Mr. Curry . In a phone interview, Fidanza said, “I wanted to make the restaurant affordable for people. These days, if you go out to a regular restaurant three times a week, you’re going to be poor.” Collerton, reached by email, said,” I wouldn’t know how to describe lesbian food, but Saltie sometimes rolls out a lesbian breakfast cake chock full of prunes and bran, just knocking on the head all those tired stereotypes!”
Saltie, 378 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, saltieny.com, 718-387-4777. Open daily from 10 to 6 PM (Mr. Curry is open Thursday through Saturday evenings, 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM). Restaurant is wheelchair accessible, but there is no restroom. There are Fresh Naps (individualized napkins with hand sanitizer on them) at the counter, which I always appreciate. Cash only; there is an ATM onsite.
First published in Gay City News on March 17, 2016.