After living the fine-dining dream back East, Alex and Kevin Pemoulie are making magic in a tiny spot tucked away on the north side of the Ballard Bridge.
Alex and Kevin Pemoulie were living the restaurant-world dream. They both worked at David Chang’s famed Momofuku in Manhattan. Then they opened their own restaurant, Thirty Acres, which The New York Times’ Pete Wells called “a find,” praising Kevin’s “talent and nerve” in the kitchen. Across the Hudson from New York in Jersey City, Thirty Acres scored a spot on Bon Appétit’s 2012 list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country.
By the fall of 2015, Alex and Kevin were over it. The critics had come, but the crowds didn’t consistently follow. High-end dining had let them down, and returning to Manhattan’s “hypercompetitive” restaurant scene was anathema to them. As Kevin told New York Magazine’s blog Grub Street, “The truth is, people go eat a slice of pizza or a burger, and they’re happy as (expletive) — and so am I when I do that.”
He and Alex wanted some sanity, time for family, “to reset and recharge … to deliver on consistency and good taste, and not pushing weird boundaries.” They decided to move back to Alex’s hometown.
1510 N.W. Leary Way, Seattle
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Mean Sandwich in Ballard is their reset, and the East Coast’s fine-dining loss is Seattle’s massive sandwich gain.
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The Mean Sandwich: Kevin hasn’t entirely forsaken the high-concept. Along with huge slabs of corned beef, pickled red cabbage and yellow mustard, the Mean’s got fresh mint and maple syrup. The syrup throws people, Alex says; she reassures them that it’s kind of like honey-baked ham. Some have said they’ll want a refund if they don’t like it, and she’s fine with that.
It’s beautiful: a glossy dome of a Macrina sesame-seed bun, promising pink corned beef, bright magenta cabbage, delicate green mint leaves, a smear of sunshiny mustard showing here and there. It takes a few bites to get all the flavors together — mine started overly mustardy — but luckily, there’s a mountain of sandwich with which to get acquainted. The syrup is subtle, just a sweet note among the sour of the cabbage, the mustard’s tang, the brightness of mint and the tender, salty meat. There’s yielding softness; there is crunch. It’s based on a Thirty Acres dish, one they thought would make a mean sandwich. They were right — this is the stuff of sandwich genius. No one has ever wanted their money back.
Also amazing: The Steak Tartare Club, on toasted Sea Wolf rye, is what every BLT has always wanted to grow up to be. The Fish contains the magic of fried lemons. The Skins & Ins are an unholy potato skin/homefry hybrid that may be — and I know this is heresy — better than French fries.
Nitpicking: The Buon Appetito’s buffalo mayo bullied its other flavors. The Yesterday’s Bun Bread Pudding is very cinnamony and extremely sweet. (But if you like Buffalo sauce, or cinnamony sweets, you’re in business.)
Prices: A Mean Sandwich ($12), a Steak Tartare Club ($13) and Skins & Ins ($3) came to $28 before tax and tip, and was a big lunch for two (go halvsies — they’ll cut ’em for you).