There’s a new guilty pleasure in town. It’s called the New Yorker, and it’s lust at first bite.
Everything about the breakfast sandwich is more fun than oatmeal with skim milk and bananas: slices of tender, pungently pickled pastrami; an egg fried just so; melted, nutty-tasting Comte cheese for bonding; a sea salt-sprinkled bun that manages the neat trick of being both soft and sturdy, so that when you chomp down, the pierced yolk soaks into the roll rather than your fingers. Pepper jelly sticks it to the tongue with some heat.
Good luck restraining yourself. The mind says “half,” but the heart wants “whole.”
The New Yorker keeps good company at Smoked and Stacked, part of an uptick in sandwich spots and a bit of delayed gratification from Marjorie Meek-Bradley. The “Top Chef” alum hoped to open beside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last April; zoning issues pushed the rollout to September (on no less than her 32nd birthday). In December, she left her job as executive chef at Ripple in Cleveland Park and Roofers Union in Adams Morgan to concentrate solely on the business of making sandwiches, in an industrial space described by Meek-Bradley as “Brooklyn in feel.” Imagine factory-size windows, concrete floors and a faux pressed-tin ceiling the color of espresso.
Wisely, the chef isn’t trying to please the world. Her menu, detailed in neat cursive letters on a chalkboard, is a handful of signature sandwiches, plus two platters that make use of the brisket and chicken in the shop. If I wasn’t waking up to the New Yorker, I’d head west with Cali Girl. Straight out of La La Land — save perhaps for the pink tomato slice — the sandwich packs in buttery avocado and biting alfalfa sprouts along with a fried egg and cured salmon, the latter from Ivy City Smokehouse.
More truth in advertising: the Messy, a riff on a Rueben that brings together pastrami, tangy sauerkraut, Comte cheese and Thousand Island dressing on (what else?) rye. Yes, the inside is apt to gush outside as the sandwich is consumed. But friends of the chef know there’s more to the story. Back when Meek-Bradley was cooking at Washington Square in Philadelphia, a certain executive sous-chef by the name of Mike Isabella referred to her as “Messy Marjie.”
Message to Isabella, now the overseer of a restaurant empire that includes multiple Greek dining rooms and a stellar sandwich shop, G by Mike Isabella: She’s cleaned up her act, she
No factory-issued meat, the pastrami at Smoked and Stacked originates with brisket that absorbs flavor from its brine: two weeks or so in a bath of coriander, allspice, bay leaf, cloves, garlic, brown sugar (you get the idea) followed by a day to dry and a massage of coriander, pepper and paprika. From there, the brisket is smoked and steamed. What emerges from the kitchen is rousingly flavored meat, etched in fat and sliced by hand: pastrami as it should be.
Mindful sandwich makers know what’s on the outside matters as much as the filling. To that end, Meek-Bradley bakes milk bread buns, made with the obvious, along with butter, eggs, yeast and a hint of brown sugar. The rolls marry the richness of brioche with the subtle sweetness of Hawaiian bread. (Gluten-free bread co-stars in a breakfast sandwich of scrambled eggs and sauteed greens. Ask for Something’s Missing.)
The chef’s interest in sandwiches dates to a challenge on ‘Top Chef,” in which contestants were tasked to whip up a fast-casual restaurant idea. Meek-Bradley briefly considered a pastrami sandwich shop. Reality intervened. “I can’t make pastrami in three hours,” recalls the chef, who ended up rolling out pasta.
Her passion for brined, smoked meat does not quite extend to another competitor for stomach space, namely chicken, brined in thyme, honey and lemon, then smoked and tucked into a bun with a ruffle of lettuce, red onion and mayonnaise.
The flavors of the Chicky Chick — faint heat, fainter smoke — are pleasant enough, but they can’t compete with the forceful, in-your-face pastrami.
Customers can also build their own sandwiches, from among the aforementioned toppings (coleslaw, sauerkraut, Comte, etc.) and sauces (mustard, mayonnaise, Thousand Island dressing). A meatless meal can be fashioned using a smoked portobello.
Meek-Bradley doesn’t understand the appeal, but a number of diners have requested smoked chicken and pastrami — “mixed,” says the chef, her voice laced with wonder.
The lone salad, the Field, covers a lot of turf. Picture a clear plastic bowl of organic greens, smoked chicken, tabbouleh and chopped portobello. The meatiest of mushrooms delivers a kick of cayenne from its marinade.
Of the platters, I prefer half a pound of sliced brisket served with a choice of two sides. Coleslaw is a creamy companion to the meat. Tabbouleh makes a bright and lemony contrast. The chunky potato salad, shot through with mustard and crisped with chopped celery and pickles, is the savory equivalent of a pint of Haagen-Dazs. I always eat more than I wish I had.
Competitors can get you a sandwich faster; Smoked and Stacked requires a bit of patience, even when there’s no crowd. But I’m okay waiting five or 10 minutes when someone is using the time to warm rye bread on a griddle or properly melt cheese.
Meek-Bradley is a hands-on presence. Don’t be surprised if she delivers your request on an aluminum tray.
Beverages are as curated as the chow, with coffee coming from the excellent Vigilante roasters and wine embracing gruner veltliner. Smoked and Stacked is as relaxed as dad jeans, yet it thinks to slip in some fillips.
A slender ledge near the front window looks onto Ninth Street NW and the facades of two of the many reasons food fans flock to Shaw, All-Purpose and Buttercream Bakeshop. Meek-Bradley’s latest challenge gives them even more to moon over.
Open: Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Thursday through Saturday.
Prices: Signature sandwiches $10 to $13, platters $14 to $18.
Sound check: 80 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.