“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” The legendary chef James Beard was not wrong when he wrote those words—we’ve certainly all eaten a lot of mediocre sandwiches. But stop by Mean Sandwich on an average weekday at noon and you’ll get a pretty good idea of just how many people here do understand a really good sandwich.
The new (December 2016) Ballard lunch spot was one of the most anticipated openings of 2016, largely due to the pedigree of its owners: Chef Kevin Pemoulie and his wife, Alex Pemoulie, met when they both worked at New York City’s Momofuku Noodle Bar (he spent nearly five years as its chef de cuisine) and went on to open Thirty Acres in Jersey City, where they earned a two-star review in The New York Times from critic Pete Wells, who said the restaurant “would be a find in any state.”
Luckily, the Pemoulies chose our state for their next venture. It was a return home for Alex, who was raised in Greenwood and still has family in the area. She says she never imagined coming back to live in Seattle. But daughter Vivian, now 2, changed all that. “It became really obvious that the whole lifestyle of living [in New York] wasn’t going to work.” They longed for a work-life balance that’s hard to find in the restaurant industry. So with the move, they made another departure—away from the modern, elevated, globally inspired dishes guests loved at Thirty Acres and toward something simple, sustainable, approachable and affordable.
Make no mistake, though: Mean Sandwich is not a deli, and to call anything here “simple” undermines the deliberateness of each ingredient on each of only five sandwiches, all on seeded Macrina buns. The best-seller, by far, is the signature Mean Sandwich: thick corned beef, pickled red cabbage, mint leaves, yellow mustard and just enough maple syrup for a little sweetness—a sandwich version of a popular brunch plate the couple served at Thirty Acres. My personal favorite is an ingenious fish sandwich that combines sardines with pickled jalapeños, fried lemon slices, celery root slaw and cilantro for an experience reminiscent of tuna fish but on another level entirely.
The thick corned beef Mean Sandwich and Skins and Ins
With local families filling the booths and a mix of passers-by and area workers—from mechanics to developers—waiting for their orders, the small, sparse shop (the former Jolly Roger space) has provided the kind of egalitarian lunch destination that the Pemoulies dreamed of, all united by an understanding of a really good sandwich.
Pair your sandwich with the phenomenal “Skins and Ins,” the Pemoulies’ take on perfectly fluffy-crispy fries, made by freezing smashed bits of baked potato and then deep-frying them.
Mean Sandwich Ballard, 1510 NW Leary Way; 206.789.9999; meansandwich.com