Homegrown Sandwiches: Fantasies Fulfilled

The Fremont counter knows exactly what you want, and they’re going to give it to you as sustainably as you can handle.

Sandwiches are the haiku of the food world: No one is too daunted to get creative. The reason, I think, is that as children we're given free rein to design our own. Even parents who institute a five-foot rule around the oven let their kids go mad with the butter knives. Spreading: safe. Toasting: any four-year-old with silicone oven mitts can do. Squeezing, stacking, slicing, even cookie-cutter-wielding must seem less terrifying--to adults at least--than an afternoon of Elmer's and glitter.The result? Each of us as adults develops a passion for realizing the sandwich of our dreams. The history of American gastronomy is ornamented by sandwich baroqueries that, like Las Vegas' Venetian Hotel, are nevertheless populist to the core. There's the $120 foie-gras-stuffed DB burger of hedge-fund upstarts, and the 1960s Monte Cristo, a battered and deep-fried, powdered-sugar-dusted croque monsieur served with jam. Down in Portland, Kenny & Zuke's serves a triple-decker that's half pastrami and half chicken salad, a combination that sounds dreamt up by Paula Deen but turns out to be a classic diner combo from the early 20th century.So if there's a dish poised to realize all our contemporary fantasies—soulful connection to the land, purity of origin, purity of purpose, the covert craving to stay in sync with trends—it's the sandwich. And Homegrown Sandwiches in Fremont gets this. Gets all of us. And, by and large, gets the sandwich, too.You can see the zeitgeist in the progression of ceiling-high blackboards that mark your path to the cash register. The list of hot sandwiches is followed by cold sandwiches, salads, and combos, then by a mission statement, and finally by a checklist of which suppliers are local, certified organic, or sustainable. Sustainable appears frequently on the boards; so does bacon. Instead of ketchup, there's chimichurri, mostarda, and romesco.Might all this overwhelm the lunch-grabber who just wants a grinder with his choice of meat and American cheese? Yeah, but he's easily cowed. And the earnest "theory" section of the restaurant's Web site is as common a sign of the times as a Twitter feed. Call me jaded, but I pay as much attention to the former as I do the artists' statements on a First Thursday crawl: It's always nice to see documentation indicating they're putting thought into what they make. Even so, the proof's always in the work.For those of you who haven't bothered with the fine print, let it be known: Homegrown believes in sustainability. Owners Brad Gillis and Ben Friedman, two 23-year-old friends from childhood, returned to Seattle after college back East to pursue a dream of owning a green business together. The pair believes that everything on the plate should be compostable, recyclable, or washable, and that the drinks case should be stocked with local wines, microbrews, and kombucha. Gillis and Friedman put big dollars into the old Sonic Boom space, knocking down a few walls and installing an open kitchen (transparency in the Obama era?). They've also kept the checkered linoleum and installed attractive tables repurposed from the Cedarcrest High School basketball court.Seattle's rife with restaurants whose chefs have better intentions than skills. God knows, in the past few years I've checked out—and then passed over, editorially speaking—my fair share. So when I went to Homegrown a couple of weeks ago and dug my fork into a tiny paper cup of carrot slaw with the smoky overtones of Spanish paprika, I was relieved to find the place wasn't just earnest but good. More important, when it isn't good, it's not good in ways that are incredibly simple to correct.Being first-time business owners with only college restaurant experience—and, I suspect, some serious seed money—Friedman and Gillis initially hired a few chefs to help design the menu. Gabe Claycamp of the now-defunct Culinary Communion and Swinery touted his involvement to the media before he became mired in troubles too volcanic to explain here.Here's what they get about the sandwich: Childhood sandwich-making tactics aside, you can't just slap a bunch of stuff between two pieces of bread and assume it's going to go down well. You have to fantasize holistically. The highlight of the crab-cake sandwich is a warm patty of Dungeness crab (instead of crab-flavored breadcrumbs), bolstered by a couple of thick slabs of bacon, the vegetal squish of ripe avocado, a densely sweet roasted-pepper relish called romesco, and the occasional fleck of lemon zest. The chicken-thigh sandwich is stuffed with chopped, roasted dark meat—you know, the part of the bird that actually tastes like chicken—with bacon, goat cheese, and a thin layer of a sweet-tart rhubarb-lavender butter just to keep everything bright. A few slices of cold roast pork tenderloin come garnished with an orange-scented mostarda (this fashion cycle's chutney) and the salty tang of Beecher's Flagship.Most of the sandwiches come on a choice of a substantial French country white or a whole-grain bread that's soft and not too potently healthy to overshadow the fillings. And for balance, the sandwiches are accompanied by a pickle or one of three small cups of shredded vegetables: the sweet-smoky carrot slaw, a slicingly tart Carolina cabbage-carrot slaw perfect for pairing with any combination involving smoked pork or pastrami, and an apple-fennel slaw that flashes and sparks like a pinwheel in a spring breeze. If only to make up to Diet Coke–addicted restaurant critics for refusing to sell anything so unhealthy as commercial sodas, Homegrown does offer fries on the side. Dusted in flour so they crisped as they browned in the oil, the rutabaga and turnip sticks I ate (on the next visit, it was parsnips) tasted like a cross between proper frites and onion rings.So, to the problems. Number one: Both a flank-steak salad with blue cheese and caramelized onions and a roasted beet, arugula, and goat-cheese salad were made with impeccable ingredients. Do you need anything else? Why, yes, you do: vinaigrette. The owners sprinkled some undoubtedly local/organic vinegar over the greens, thinking to cut down on the fat by skipping the oil, but the few acidic drops weren't sufficient to coat the ingredients and bring the flavors together—adding a tablespoon of oil and tossing the greens and dressing together before putting them in the bowl are all both salads need.Number two is a simple matter of proportion. Sure, there was one sandwich that failed—a grilled-cheese sandwich with the perfect blend of cheeses (the brawny wallop of Flagship Reserve softened by the suave charm of gruyère), whole-grain mustard, and caramelized onions. And that was only because it was toasted, and halfway. But just like the salads, since the sandwiches depend on good ingredients, and all the ingredients are good, I'd just recommend that the chefs have all their staff make every sandwich together a couple of times and taste, so each person knows how much salt to sprinkle onto a fillet of succulent spice-rubbed black cod (hint: a lot less, to avoid ruining what might have been my favorite sandwich) or add a couple of tablespoons less tangy goat cheese to a roasted portobello sandwich with parsley-oregano chimichurri.But, hey, it's lunch. Save the planet, don't save the planet, love Homegrown, love Baguette Box more—you've just spent $10. A three-course meal at Tilth it's not. As for those of you who look askance at the desire to buy into another person's fantasy of how two slices of bread should be stuffed, I can only paraphrase Freud: Sometimes a sandwich is only a sandwich.Price Check

  Cod sandwich: $8.95

  Pork sandwich: $8.95

  Grilled cheese sandwich: $6.95

  Crab cake sandwich: $11.95

  Beet salad: $4.95/$6.95

  Rutabaga fries: $2.95


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