Today, we stop by Saltie, where a trio of battle-hardened Williamsburg chefs have combined years of cooking experience, a dedication to the highest degree of care in the kitchen, and a love for the finest ingredients around, in the context of the sandwich – a supposedly simple thing. In our search for something good, we chat with Jill Meerpohl, who helps us navigate to safe waters. As it turns out, at Saltie, simple is actually kind of complex. In a good way.
So Jill, what’s good today?
I honestly can say that everything is good. The owners, Caroline, Elizabeth and Rebecca, opened this place three years ago after all cooking and hanging out together here in Williamsburg for something like fifteen years. Caroline was the founding chef at Diner. They opened this place together. The idea behind Saltie is that it’s streamlined, a tight ship. We make really kickass sandwiches, a few other things, and that’s it.
So why not try a couple of things? The Clean Slate is one of sandwiches that doesn’t get as much attention as some of the others, but it’s really good and it’s one of my favorites to make. The Captain’s Daughter is one of the ones that everyone seems to talk about, and it’s really great too.
Sounds good. Tell us about both.
Well, The Clean Slate might be our healthiest sandwich. It might be the prettiest too. It’s got a little bit of a Middle Eastern thing going on. It’s naan bread topped with hummus, bulgur wheat, mustard greens, an herb mix and some seasonal pickles.
One thing about our sandwiches is that they’re always seasonal. The menu doesn’t change, but the sandwiches always change. They evolve with the seasons. So right now, The Clean Slate features beets, pickled onions, and pickled peppers. Sometimes we pickle the beets, but right now they taste so darn good that we don’t bother.
So this sandwich has a lot going on…
All of our sandwiches are pretty complex. There’s something beautiful about confining yourself to the context of a sandwich. It’s meditative. A sandwich is a simple thing. But putting a lot of care and thought into something simple can allow you to take it to a place that’s beyond simple – that seeks something like perfection. I love the elevated approach and techniques used in high end dining, but there’s something awesome about doing simple food with simple techniques while bringing the highest level of care to every aspect of it.
So with the Clean Slate – we start on the bottom with our naan bread, which we make ourselves with spelt flour. We make it in a cast iron pan, so you get a little bit of nice char that gives it a smoky, crispy flavor that goes great with the nuttiness of the spelt.
We top that with our hummus, which we also make here – we make everything here, really. It’s creamy and cool, made with tahini and coriander, which gives it a nice fragrant note. We mix bulgur into it, which gives it a little texture and more nuttiness, and we top that with our yogurt sauce – yes, we make the yogurt too – which brightens it up with some tang. Then come the mustard greens, which add some spice, the herbs, which bring more fragrance and brightness, the pickles, for a little sweet, sour crunch, and finally we sprinkle it with some sesame seeds, which add a little bit of nuttiness and salt.
So it’s got a lot going on in one sandwich, but each element is carefully considered. There’s a lot of thought that goes into each of them.
The Captain’s Daughter is the other one. It’s basically sardines, pickled egg, and a seasonal salsa verde on focaccia.
We make the focaccia every day. It’s our version of that light, delicious, soft and comforting sandwich bread you’re always looking for that’s so hard to find. There’s a nice sea salt sprinkle on the bread that gives it a nice crunch and that brings out the flavors of the bread and everything on the sandwich too.
Then you have the sardines. We use these awesome quality sardines from Morocco. They’re big, juicy, fillets – not the little ones you think of jammed into a little can. They’ve got that almost sweet, fishy flavor – a little bit of the ocean, a little brine.
Then you’ve got the pickled egg, which is cooked a little softer than a hard-boiled egg. It combines the tang from the pickle with the rich creaminess of the egg. And to finish it we add some fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, capers and our salsa verde, which we make with a whole bunch of seasonal herbs and lemon juice. It’s super bright, so it cuts through all that richness of the egg and balances the brininess of the sardine really nicely.
Both these sandwiches are pretty great.
Those do sound pretty great. Tell us about the ingredients – anything special going on there?
We source all our produce from local farms. That’s a huge part of what we do. It’s a huge part of the culture that Caroline, Elizabeth and Rebecca came out of, cooking in Williamsburg for all those years, and it’s a culture that they actually had an important role in creating. They were some of the first people to start doing it that way in Brooklyn.
We get a lot of our produce from the Lancaster Farm Cooperative. It’s a cooperative of about eighty very traditional family-owned farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We also work with Brooklyn Grange, the big rooftop farm. And we work with lots of small producers that we know personally or who find us one way or another. There’s a guy who grows grapes in Brooklyn. He came in and brought some and said, “I want you to try my grapes.” We tried them and we were like, “These are delicious! Bring us more!”
Caroline, Elizabeth and Rebecca have been doing what they do here for a long time. They have great reputations as cooks and as people who really care about quality and supporting small producers. So a lot of people come in and bring things they’ve grown or made for us to try. If it’s good and we can use it, we like to do that.
So Jill, how did you end up here, making sandwiches?
I’m from Florida, but I’ve lived in Brooklyn for a long time. I’ve been cooking for about four years. When I first came to New York I started out in the fashion industry, but after a while it started to leave a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Cooking is what has always made me happy. I was like, “Why don’t I do what makes me happy?” So I just did it. I just went for it. I started out at Vinegar Hill House and did a lot of different things in the kitchen there, from making pastry to working the garde manger and cooking on the line.
I knew the Saltie ladies from the neighborhood. It had always actually been a specific goal of mine to work for them. When I started cooking, I hoped one day to work for Caroline in particular. She was a real inspiration to me. As the founding chef at Diner, she kind of launched the whole approach to food that’s become so common today in Brooklyn. I still remember the first time I ate at Diner – I was like, “Whoa, what’s going on here!?”
So when they were expanding a little bit and needed some help, they approached me about the possibility of coming onboard and I jumped at the chance.
I love everything about it here. We make everything ourselves, from the bread to the condiments to the pickles. We use the best produce. Everything is made with tons of care, and tons of experience goes into each sandwich. Sandwiches are simple things, but there’s a lot of care and detail that you can put into them. That’s what we like about sandwiches, and that’s why I like working here.
Saltie is located at 378 Metropolitan Ave., between Havemeyer and Marcy, in Williamsburg.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.