309 3rd Ave South
Seattle, WA 98104-2620
Phone: (206) 621-8772
I’ve been watching Mario Batali on TV Food Network for years going back to Molto Mario. I’ve also enjoyed his recent show filmed in Italian locations though the overbearing effusiveness of his personality put me off a bit. I was heartbroken to learn at eGullet.com (Molto Mario Visits Seattle) that Mario just finished a Seattle visit in which he filmed at La Spiga, Pike Place and, where else, Salumi. The show was broadcast this week on TV Food Network…and I missed it!
So, when I read in a little Saveur sidebar about three years ago that Armandino Batali, Mario’s father, had opened Salumi in downtown Seattle, I was intrigued and decided to track the place down…which wasn’t easy because it is next to King Station with no nearby parking or even foot traffic to speak off. Another traffic oddity is that its at the intersection of 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Now, if the oddness of this hasn’t struck you yet…can you imagine two parallel streets intersecting?? I know they say in geometry that all parallel lines eventually intersect given enough distance, you just don’t think of it happening here on earth. Well, in Seattle it does happen!
The Samis Foundation, founded by Seattle Jewish real estate pioneer, Sam Israel, owns much of Pioneer Square including the Salumi building. The Foundation webiste features a fascinating Batali family portrait:
My Grandfather was here in 1903 in Pioneer Square doing the same thing I’m doing. Ox tails. Pork cheeks. Cured meats. Sandwiches. Or by the pound. Eat in. Take out. Tuesday through Friday 11 am to 4 pm. Or if you’re lucky (Sorry, he’s already booked through September 2002) you can reserve the whole place and I’ll cater a party just for you,” says Armandino Batali. The whole place is all of about 720 square feet. Three tables and a dozen chairs tucked into the Mottman Building at 309 Third Avenue. Don’t miss the porchetta, Salumi’s signature salute to the pig as served in Italy; or Leonetta’s Meatballs–Armandino’s mother’s original recipe. Now, come vuoi.
The Mottman Building is one of eight major restorations of the Samis Foundation in Pioneer Square.
Read the entire passage at Armandino Batali profile.
I just read over at CitySearch.com that Armandino started Salumi after a 31 year career as an engineer at Boeing. If so, he got out just in time since the company layed off about 40,000 employees just about the time he opened the restaurant. Another little tidbiit I learned from (of all places) Food Service Industry News (foodservice.com) is that Mario was raised in Federal Way. One might say that Federal Way is an unlikely place for a great New York City chef to derive from–but I’m sure that many of the world’s great chef’s have derived from equally unlikely places!
Salumi is housed in a hole in the wall. At the entrance, Mrs. Batali or another family member might be making gnocchi or other handmade pastas. Pass along a narrow passageway and you see on the wall old family photographs going back to the beginning of the 20th century. Look closely, and you’ll see the contemporary color family shot that includes Mario. You can’t see him too well until you notice the fierce looking guy peering out between two rather well fed looking urchins (no doubth related to him). The fierce look must be a put on because everyone else in the photograph is beaming.
Then you come into a slightly wider food counter section, thence into the dining room which is really a set of a few rickety tables and folding chairs where diners eat. It’s about as rudimentary as you can get. You’d have to give it a ‘0’ for decor in Zagat. But who cares about decor when you make food so tasty and so unusual for Seattle (does anyone know of a really good Italian restaurant here? let me know if you do). I haven’t read any restaurant review which has pinponted the regional origin of Salumi’s menu. Perhaps, you’d call it Italian-American (but in the best sense of the word as opposed to Chianti bottles with red checked tablecloths and spaghetti & meatballs smothered in red sauce). As in much Italian American cooking the preparation is simple and the cuts of meat are inexpensive as befitting the former economic status of early Italian immigrants. In fact, one of my few criticisms of Salumi’s meats is that (at least for me) there’s sometimes a little too much gristle and sinew for me to enjoy whatever cut I might be eating. My other pet peeve is the poor quality of the bread. If you’re planning to make some of the best sandwiches in town couldn’t you make some effort to find bread that matches your ingredients in quality? As it is, the bread tastes pretty lifeless. I’d recommend that they talk to Tom Douglass, whose Dahlia Bakery makes a ficelle (baguette) which would do great honor to these sandwiches.
Salumi, which I understand means ‘smoked meat,’ specializes in, you guessed it, MEAT. Specifically, cured meat like salami. I’m not an expert in this food group and it’s generally not my favorite part of Italian cuisine, but you’d have to say that you can get scores of different types of cured meats here. If you’re a salami lover, this is where you go when you die (and hopefully before too). Lynn Rosato Kaspar has produced a wonderful nuts and bolts interview with Armandino about cured meats. It really captures the ‘hands on’ nature of Armandino’s food philosophy. For example, in response to a question about how he tells when a salami is ‘done’ with the curing process he replies, “I can tell by touching it.” Here’s the audio for Summer in Provence (the name of the episode in question) and here’s the link to the SplendidTable.org.
Mostly, I get takeout from Salumi and eat my sandwich elsewhere. Meatballs is one of my favorites (must be all those meatball heros I ate growing up in New York!). I also buy takeout there for dinner since their entrees and soups are invariably delicious. Their lasagnes are one of my favorites. The frozen meat sauces (lamb, port, oxtail) are also extraordinary on fresh pasta.
I’m always mystified by the oversized dinner menus displayed on a blackboard on the back wall. What do you have to do to get invited to one of these feasts? Clearly, if you’re wealthy (say, Howard Schultz) you can invite your best friends & pay Armandino to fete you and your chums. But how would an ordinary mortal go about getting into one of these evening meals? If you know if such a thing is possible, please let me know.
For another right on the money review of Salumi, check out Hillel Cooperman’s Tastingmenu.com which says, in part:
As Italian lunch places go on the east coast Salumi [would be] very very good. As Italian lunch places go in Seattle, Salumi is unreal, fantastic, and alone. Salumi on the east coast would be wonderful, but it’s uniqueness in Seattle, along with the star factor of being Mario’s father’s joint gives it that special something that gets it write-ups in all the food magazines, and a local cult following. Circumstances aside, Salumi deserves the accolades. It’s more than just the food, the atmosphere is wonderful as well. The people behind the counter couldn’t be nicer.
Couldn’t have said it better.