Remember Seattle’s sky-high restaurant boom? When at its peak, just last year, new places were opening at the rate of more than one a day? Now that COVID-19 economic exigencies have ground such debuts to a near halt — and ground our days into a “Groundhog Day” sameness — it’s easy to feel there’s nothing new under the sun (when it finally appears). But one little silver lining for me has been revisiting some places I really liked at the outset and now have time to get back to, rather than feeling obliged to chase the shiny and new. These three make especially great summertime takeout suppers, each in their own way.
Life-changing sandwiches from Trey Lamont’s Jerk Shack
2510 First Ave., Seattle; 206-441-7817, jerkshackseattle.com
Heaven is probably made out of Trey Lamont’s Caribbean fry bread. The currently truncated-for-takeout menu at his Belltown place, Jerk Shack, contains a handful of other things — better try his version if you like wings — but his big, messy sandwiches bestow life-changing goodness at a time when we all could use way more of that.
The Jerk Shack sandwich majesty starts at the bottom and ends at the top with his golden, round fry-bread rolls, which are, yes, fried, yet miraculously ungreasy, possessed of just the faintest glisten. The time in the deep fryer imparts both an ideal outer chewiness plus a cushy, bubble-honeycombed interior like a beautiful bread-cloud. It’s the perfect vehicle for an amount of sandwich filling that other breads would be overwhelmed by: While its texture stays pillowy, the buttery-tasting roll is substantial enough to stand up to a glorious onslaught.
For fresh crunchiness, all Jerk Shack’s sandwiches contain a mound of slaw spilling out the sides, colorful with ribbons of carrot and purple cabbage. Vinegary peppers and a limey cilantro verde sauce add brightness, tamarind adds balance and, for takeout times, the garlic aioli and housemade “oh boi” hot sauce come on the side for self-serve richness and serious heat, sans potential sogginess. The jerk chicken version — made with tender thigh meat seasoned with smoky, nuanced house-ground spices — is one of the best sandwiches in the city and probably in the universe. Then there are four more kinds to try (including Beyond Meat for our vegetarian friends). At $12 to $15 each, including warmly jerk-spiced fries, these sandwiches represent a tremendous value in terms of sheer happiness.
While one might pine for Jerk Shack’s tropical dining room or sweet back patio, both closed for now, eating takeout on a nearby side-street stoop on a warm evening was one of my finest pandemic dining experiences so far. With slightly more patience, one could make it to the Sculpture Park. Also, I’m not saying you should drink in public (though said practice appears to be on the rise all over the place), just that Jerk Shack’s to-go cocktails — deep-purple, gingery Jamaican hibiscus punch; fruity-sweet, mango-colored Vincey rum punch; and a seriously spicy jalapeño-cucumber house margarita — could conceivably be consumed right out of their deli containers (and at $10.50 to $11.50 for 12 ounces, they’ve also got a very favorable pleasure-to-cost ratio).
In case you’ve missed the headlines, chef Lamont is raising money to expand Jerk Shack southward and, eventually, beyond, to better serve the Black community — not just delicious food but also opportunity. “My vision would be copying Dick’s version of helping people pay for college, having child care, having full benefits of medical and dental,” he recently told The Seattle Times, in order to set “an example of entrepreneurship, community, and social economic stability” according to his GoFundMe campaign — which is the way to help with some real life-changing goodness (along with eating his fantastic sandwiches).
Some of Seattle’s very best pie from The Independent Pizzeria
4235 E. Madison, Seattle; 206-860-6110, theindiepizzeria.com
Opened in a funny little triangle-shaped spot right across from Madison Park Beach back in 2010, family-and-friends-run The Independent Pizzeria isn’t as well-known as its little sister, Dacha Diner, on Capitol Hill. The latter scored a spot among Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants in the country for its very delicious Eastern European food, way back when such a list still made sense (that is, last year). But pizza never goes out of style, and turns out The Independent Pizzeria is still making some of Seattle’s very best pie.
The crust of a pie from The Independent achieves a sort of improved-Neapolitan state — just the right thinness and chew and top-surface bubbling, yet also exactly crispy enough on the bottom, which, if you care to look, is leopard-spotted with beautiful browning. The tomato sauce, should you go that route, has a graceful, un-oregano’d subtlety, while the different cheeses found on various pie configurations are of a high quality that you can taste. The grease factor takes the perfect middle path; if your blood is feeling thin, get the pepperoni pie (11-inch, $15), made with slices of Zoe’s, each becoming a little parabola-reflecting-pool of meaty oil.
Otherwise, it’s difficult to go wrong with The Independent’s various topping combinations — choose the pie that’s going to ferry your favorites into your mouth. But if you’re a pizza omnivore, your trust will not be misplaced in the mystery Dealer’s Choice ($17) for the luck of the topping-draw. Mine recently featured very thinly sliced red onion, whole basil leaves, artichoke hearts and capers — a combo I neither would’ve thought of nor ordered off a menu, but ended up loving even more than the pepperoni, which I loved very, very much.
Even if you’ve taken up making your own pizza during coronavirus times, it’s (hopefully!?) too hot these days to get your oven up to temperature, and eating The Independent’s work is humbling, inspiring and just a total joy.
Also, The Independent’s salads are fresh and simple and excellent and a deal at $6 each, and I promise to try to get their Caesar dressing recipe for us all.
A happier-ever-after summertime supper from D’ La Santa
2359 10th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-709-2222, dlasanta.com
Once upon a time, there was a corner spot near the Roanoke Park Place Tavern on North Capitol Hill that had been so many failed restaurants, it seemed surely haunted. In 2017, along came Angelica Villasenor — undaunted, she installed D’ La Santa, her family-run place featuring her grandmother’s seasonings and dishes from Chihuahua to Guadalajara, served on gorgeous handmade pottery at tables surrounding a fairy-tale-style, lantern-laden carved tree.
The menu at D’ La Santa had some ubiquitous hits such as a quesadilla. But it featured specialties like an uncommonly pretty chile en nogada ($16.99), a poblano pepper stuffed with a mixture of four kinds of meat, three kinds of nuts, plantain, green apple and multifarious spices, cloaked in a creamy-sweet wine sauce and confetti’d with pomegranate seeds. There was also “The Steakhouse” section, including carne asada made with Mishima Reserve wagyu beef and served with your choice of flour or corn tortillas as well as a baby quesadilla, grilled cactus and more ($29.99). Or a 16-ounce prime Delmonico, 25-day dry-aged, served in a hot lava stone with lots of sides of its own ($55.99).
And the food was very good, and the spell was broken, and all the neighborhood ate and drank and rejoiced. But the story deserved retelling for those beyond, especially considering that one of the best-value, most fun takeout options across the land today has to be D’ La Santa’s Tacoarte, a build-your-own assortment including: carne asada, pollo asado, cochinita pibil and al pastor, all better than you could probably make at home and would never make all at once (plus ours also had the surprise gift of housemade chorizo); superlatively creamy and tasty refried pinto beans (of which you should definitely also order a side for $2.50); pleasantly, gently pickled onion; chopped white onion; leaves of cilantro; rounds of radish; two kinds of salsa; and eight tortillas (the flour are slightly thick, pliant and spotted with grill marks, and you might as well get four more for $2.25, because this whole shebang costs only $31.99 and “serves 2 people,” but actually more like three or four). And our summertime supper options were happier ever after.