Working in Pioneer Square, I have the good fortune of being walking distance from one of Seattle’s most precious gems, Salumi. Owned and started by Armandino and Marilyn Batali, parents to Mario, Salumi is literally a narrow hole in the wall, a magical tunnel of cured meats and cheeses. You can feel the family history the second you enter in the black and white photographs on the wall, and in the simple, never-changing atmosphere.
Craving something comforting and substantial, I pulled up Salumi’s menu online. I quickly spotted my favorites: Smoked Paprika, Meatball Sandwich, and Salumi Muffo, but then something special caught my eye. Oxtail. Only available for a few days in October and a few days in December, the 4th-7th to be exact. I checked the calendar. December 5th — I was in luck! So I quickly enlisted my coworker Sean and we were out the door.
Oh, how naive we were. Upon arrival at 11 (which is when they open), there was already a long line wrapping around the corner. The hardcore ‘oxtailers’ (as I will refer to them) scoffed at the rest of us, just now showing up. “There are only thirty sandwiches a day, so you have to get here early,” said one smug Patagonia-wearing man towards the front of the line. With a meeting only thirty minutes away, I knew we wouldn’t make it that day…but this only fueled my desire to get my hands on one of these elusive oxtail sandwiches.
Day two. We were held up in a meeting, but still determined to try. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived they were already sold-out of oxtail, so we settled for some of the other classic standbys. This time, we also brought another co-worker, Sece, and she and I both ordered the Leonetta’s Meatball Sandwich. One of the women behind the counter politely suggested that we try it as a ‘deconstructed’ sandwich, so as to be more ladylike. I’ll have you know that there’s nothing ladylike about this sandwich, and maybe that’s why we both love it so much. We ordered fresh mozzarella with ours as well and the cheese melted underneath the fragrant, tender meatballs, everything swimming in the flavorful tomato sauce and sautéed onions (onions and peppers are optional). Their chewy ciabatta-style bread is my favorite as it has so many air pockets to absorb all of the goodness. We easily could’ve shared a sandwich, but then we wouldn’t have had a delicious snack for later.
Starving, we quietly huddled over our sandwiches at the long communal table in the back of the restaurant, stopping only to smile and nod at each other (and to wipe sauce off of our faces). Sean went with the Hot Sopressata Salami Sandwich, served cold with fresh mozzarella, an olive oil spread, and onions and peppers. Their hot sopressata is sliced razor-thin and packs quite a punch. You really can’t go wrong with this menu staple.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. I had to have an oxtail sandwich.
So now it’s Friday. We knew we needed to get smart this time, so Sean took one for the team and went to hold our place in line around 10:15 while Sece and I were in a meeting. As soon as our meeting let out at 11, we darted down 2nd Avenue towards the looming crowd. I had an anxious feeling rush over me…what if 10:15 wasn’t early enough? But LO AND BEHOLD, there was Sean, holding our spot toward the front of the line! Sean headed back to the office and we shared our war story with our fellow oxtailers, enjoying the sense of camaraderie as we waited for the doors to open.
Once the warm Oxtail Sandwiches were in our hands, we received high-fives from the guys in front of us in line as well as “Congratulations!” from the woman ringing us up. Such a sense of accomplishment that only someone who loves food as much as us can understand (or rationalize). She also told us we had scored Sandwich #28 and #29, essentially two of the last Oxtail Sandwiches of 2012. (We could’ve turned a serious a profit by hawking these outside, but there’s no way we were giving them up). We put our heads down and tried not to look too smug as we walked out the door, feeling a tiny tinge of compassion for those still in line who hadn’t yet received the bad news.
A family recipe that’s been passed down, the oxtail itself was almost velvety in texture, the meat melting in our mouths with the luscious sauce. The meat is sandwiched on a wide French baguette with a parsley-caper breadcrumb (a delicious spread made in-house) on one side and a breadcrumb olive oil on the other side with sautéed onions and peppers. The meat is cooked until soft and ‘peelable’ says Gina Batali, Armandino’s daughter and co-owner, and then it’s braised in a marinara with carrots and celery for about eight hours. It truly is a special sandwich and dispels all bad rumors about oxtail. Still don’t believe me? It was even named one of the best in the country by The Travel Channel’s Adam Richman in 2012.
Even when they’re not serving oxtail sandwiches, I highly suggest giving Salumi a try if you haven’t been. There’s something transporting about the space and the food with its storied past, yet it still manages to feel so uniquely Seattle. And if you’re like me and love the thrill of the chase, keep tabs on their online menu and maybe you, too, will get lucky one of these days.
Salumi, 309 3rd Avenue S, Seattle, WA, 206.621.8772, http://www.salumicuredmeats.com, Open Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 am-3:30 am