These sandwiches in downtown Seattle are so good it’s hard to pick a favorite. Whatever you order, keep a pile of napkins nearby.
It’s 12:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and a man walks into the tiny cafe, dreaming of a brisket sandwich.
“We’re out,” says Taunia Carter, the woman behind the counter.
“Oh, no! That’s my favorite,” the man says, and steps outside. “I’ll come back another day.”
823 Third Ave. (downtown), Seattle; open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 206-765-6605, zaccagnisseattle.com
Carter sighs. “On a normal day, I’d convince him that he’ll find his next favorite. You know, schmooze a little. But I’m all schmoozed out today.”
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I’m sure she could have sold him on something just as good. Every sandwich I tried at Zaccagni’s downtown was excellent; I cannot pick a favorite.
But that day sure seemed hectic. By the middle of lunch hour, they were already sold out of everything except four options. Carter yells them out when someone walks through the door: “We have the chicken, the pork, meatball and roast beef!” That brusque, East Coast charm, plus the no-frills space, gives the place a delightfully non-Seattle vibe.
Behind her, in the kitchen, is owner Darlene Boline, a Pennsylvania native who used to own a French bistro outside Philadelphia. When she moved to Seattle “for a new life,” she decided to return to her Italian roots.
Zaccagni’s (pronounced za-GAH-nees) is named after her grandparents. Boline first opened it in Pike Place Market in 2013 and ran it for about a year and a half before moving on to work in catering. She brought it back downtown at Marion and Third in June, and word seems to be spreading among downtown workers, rightfully so.
The menu: A selection of traditional Italian sandwiches, such as chicken and eggplant Parmesan, braised brisket and roast beef, plus fries and onion rings as sides.
She plans to add some non-sandwich options soon, responding to feedback from people seeking less bread. (But that soft-yet-crunchy bread from Le Panier is so good … Treat yourself sometimes, people.)
Don’t miss: The perfectly light eggplant Parmesan sandwich is not to be missed. My New Jersey-raised colleague said it was better than the one she had on that coast two weeks ago. Similarly magically light is the meatball sub — not the gut bomb they can be. Both are served with just the right amount of cheese (provolone for eggplant, Parmesan for meatballs) and a bright, garlicky marinara sauce.
The herb-roasted pork and roast-beef sandwiches hit other great notes. On the pork, a garlic aioli was the star, while hints of horseradish added excitement to juicy roast beef.
On the side, indulge in “The Works” fries; they’re a bit soupy in the best way, with a gooey, Velveeta-esque cheese sauce, chunks of succulent brisket, and gravy. You’ll need a fork.
A tip (or three): Order online early through zaccagnisseattle.com; you set your pickup time and they’ll have it ready and warm when you arrive. Second, if you need to feed a horde, Boline is starting her own catering arm, and can make trays of favorites, like lasagna and chicken Marsala. And last, but maybe most important, grab extra napkins; this food is not for the dainty.
Prices: Four sandwiches — eggplant Parmesan ($8), roast beef ($9), meatball ($8.50) and roasted pork ($9) — and an order of “The Works” fries ($7) totaled $41.50, before tax and tip.