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What is there to say about the mighty Paseo that hasn’t already been said? No doubt if you’re reading this, you’ve already begun to nod your head and salivate… checking your watch and counting the hours until lunch, your mind drifting away to Caribbean climes. Allow me then to simply add my voice to the chorus and sing the praises of this, our undisputed King of Cubans, Seattle’s reigning sandwich champion.
There is a tiny, corrugated tin shack way up on Fremont Ave. with red doors and no signage. Paseo doesn’t need a sign. Just look for the permanent line of people out the door and up the block most times of day, rain or shine. During the summer lunch rush, you can expect up to an hour’s wait, no exaggeration. People order piles of sandwiches and carry them out, huge grins on their faces. There are a handful of tables in the tiny stand, but unless you get lucky, you’re not going to want to wait for one of those.
Recently, on a local message board that I frequent, a question was posed which sought recommendation on a definitive last meal before departing Seattle. Where would you go? What would you eat? The universal consensus was Paseo, the legendary Grilled Pork sandwich. Massive barbequed filets of pork covered with caramelized sweet onions and black pepper, giant sprigs of fresh cilantro, spicy jalapeños, romaine lettuce and creamy garlic aioli on a lightly toasted French baguette the size of a baby. Once you start eating it, you won’t be able to stop. The bread is soft and tangy, but you’ll still have to unhinge your jaw to get your mouth around the behemoth. Onions will slide down your fingers and sauce will drip down your face, but eat without shame – you are in the presence of greatness.
All of the sandwiches at Paseo are ridiculously rich and messy, so don’t forget to bring a roll of paper towels. If you’ve been fasting for several weeks, I can think of nothing more indulgent than a Cuban Roast sandwich – tender chunks of marinated pork shoulder, juicy with a hint of sweetness. If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll run into an entirely jet black piece of caramelized onion that will knock you on your ass. Those sautéed onions are truly astonishing, so good that there’s a whole vegetarian sandwich dedicated to them. As if you needed anything more, each sandwich comes with a side of soft and buttery corn on the cob wrapped in tin foil.
If you want something a little less obscenely decadent, go for the Paseo Prawns. Swimming in sautéed garlic tapenade, the Black Tiger prawns are plump and juicy and a much lighter option than some of the other sandwich offerings. You can order the prawns on a heat scale of 1 to 5 stars, but even to the max, you’ll hardly break a sweat (Paseo is way more spicy-spice than spicy-hot). Or, if you’re really looking to go light, get the Tofu Delight and a cup of black beans (and watch out for the bay leaf).
Back in the day, I had a friend who used to shake his head at my pescetarian ways and say “You have no idea what you’re missing.” He was referring to the Midnight Cuban Press, and there were never truer words spoken. That always stuck with me, so when I finally rediscovered the joys of meat, I journeyed North, waited in the epic line and was granted an audience with destiny. Billed as “our contribution to the Fremont arts”, the Midnight Cuban Press is the pinnacle of all that has come before – huge chunks of chewy Cuban roast pork, melty pungent Swiss cheese, tangy slices of sweet banana peppers and thin slices of smoky wonderful ham. And always the onions. The entire thing is thrown into a hot press covered with tin foil and then heated to create a savory, meaty, dripping mess of smiles. If you manage to restrain yourself, you can probably get two separate meals out of the Midnight Cuban – it’s a monster. Still, who are we kidding?
Paseo is best enjoyed in the Summertime, and that means you’ve got to make haste people! Time is running out before we are shortly plunged back into darkness. But here’s something you might not know. Last year, Paseo opened a second sandwich stand way down on Seaview Ave. in Ballard (towards Golden Gardens). It’s still wildly popular with the locals, but it’s just off the beaten path enough that you won’t have to hassle with the same crush of grilled pork junkies that frequent the Fremont location. Look for the bright pink building and the choirs of angels. Either way you go, Paseo is CASH ONLY so plan accordingly. Now go eat like it’s your last meal in town.
A little over a month ago, and seemingly out of nowhere, a high end, high concept sandwich shop opened in the old Sonic Boom General Store on Fremont Ave. Homegrown, a “sustainable sandwich shop,” is not shy about its politics or its mission statement – sole use of organic, local and sustainable ingredients, green serving and printed materials and 100% compostable product. To that end, a large slate chalkboard at the front of the shop meticulously denotes where each sandwich ingredient has been supplied from, with checkboxes indicating whether that particular source fits all three criteria. It’s actually a pretty great idea, if you’re a total food nerd like myself (the bread is from Essential Baking Co., the charcuterie comes from Zoe Meats, the pork from Carlton Farms, etc). They could have just as easily called it Zeitgeist Sandwiches.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccup right out of the gate, when Gabriel “The Destroyer” Claycamp illegally supplied Homegrown with some of his much-hyped Swinery pig product. In typical fashion, Claycamp had not acquired the appropriate regulatory permits required to sell his cured meat, and so the Health Department swooped in and forced Homegrown to remove it from the menu, leaving them scrambling for a new distributor (more damning, his touted artisanal cured pork actually met with some pretty disdainful initial critiques, as evidenced in the comments over here). This also explains why “Katie’s BBQ” is permanently listed as *OUT* on the menu (that being Katie Coleman, also late of Culinary Communion). But in the end, people continue to flock to Homegrown in droves, because if there is one thing that is true in the universe, it is that humans love sandwiches.
The space has a lot of character, and an attention to detail that reinforces Homegrown’s mission statement. A black and white checkerboard tile floor, green tones everywhere, bins for recycling or compost. Best of all, on each tabletop, a tiny pot of herbs for your consideration – thyme, bay leaf, rosemary. The kitchen is open in the back, and the cooks always seem to be scrambling around filling orders. Especially during a lunch rush, Homegrown is unquestionably hectic and your order may or may not get lost in the shuffle. But the staff is always so sincerely apologetic and earnest that I find it hard to hold these fumbles against them (I’m calling growing pains on this one).
Okay, so how about the sandwiches? Two categories, hot and cold, most of them hits, a couple of misses. I was fairly unimpressed with their Veggie sandwich offering – a layer of hummus, sprouts, tomato, cucumber and avocado. The hummus was mild and kind of grainy, with more lemon than tahini. The French bread was tangy and held up well. It’s a nicely constructed sandwich, but nothing particularly special. On the other hand, a basic Turkey, Bacon & Avocado sandwich can transcend simplicity when all of the ingredients come together like sandwich Voltron. The bacon was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, the turkey was genuinely moist and the avocado, tomato and microgreens really filled out the rest of the sandwich. The Beecher’s gouda was slightly sweet and wonderfully gooey. That turkey wasn’t deli-sliced either, but rather big chunks of breast meat with crispy skin. It was like the kind of turkey sandwich you’d make after Thanksgiving. The aioli dressing was nice and light and used sparingly.
Each sandwich comes with your choice of a side – three different slaws or a couple of gherkins. It’s important to keep this in mind, because Homegrown loves it some slaw. Many of the sandwiches actually have one of the slaws as a primary component, which can sometimes lead to slaw overload. For example, the apple fennel slaw is great on its own – covered with fresh dill, it’s sweet and crunchy and tastes like cider. But that slaw is also a main ingredient in the Spicy Pork Tenderloin, and when coupled with a spread of sweet mostarda, the apple-spice flavor nearly overwhelms the entire sandwich. I think it’s primarily a question of balance, since the mostarda works very well on the Reuben, the mustardy flavor perfectly complementing the sauerkraut. That’s about the only positive thing about the Reuben though, as the onion rye was pretty undercooked, almost soggy, and the pastrami was crazy fatty. Admittedly that gave it remarkable flavor, but you should plan on having your incisors sharpened before embarking on that particular journey.
Even better than any of the slaws would be a side order of Homegrown’s seasonal Veggie Fries. Depending on the day, these unique fries are rough cut pieces of parsnip or turnip or rutabaga dredged in a spicy breading and served with a side of tangy mustard dipping sauce. They’re not crispy (in fact, quite the opposite), but the texture is awesome and they have a lot of heat and a complex curry flavor. I was thoroughly impressed by these addictive bites.
Next to that amazing turkey sandwich, I think the other highlight on the menu is the Blackened Cod. Served on a beautiful grilled Panino, the flaky chunks of fish are nice and spicy and the caramelized onions are sweet and savory. The sandwich is topped with a creole honey mustard and a South Carolina slaw made of cabbage, green peppers and carrots. It’s a very good, very messy sandwich (is there an inverse correlation there? See: Paseo’s grilled pork sandwich, Baguette Box’ crispy drunken chicken). And while I honestly think the two aforementioned Sandwich Kings have little to fear from Homegrown, it’s always nice to have another choice, especially one so dedicated to the locavore cause. I’ll definitely be back.