We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
If you haven't heard of Caroline Fidanza, you've certainly heard of the restaurants and publications she's worked for (not to mention enjoyed the farm-to-table restaurant culture that she helped to create!) -- before founding Saltie in 2009, she was the head chef at Diner and Marlow and Sons in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as well as the food editor at Diner Journal.
Saltie is a different experience from the more traditional restuarants on Fidanza's resume. Tiny (there are fewer than 10 seats in the house) and totally pared down, Fidanza and her partners Elizabeth Schula and Rebecca Collerton have designed a tightly curated menu of sandwiches and pastries. Think potato tortilla on olive oil-y focaccia with pimenton aioli (that's the "Spanish Armada"), or hummus, bulgur, pickled vegetables, and yogurt sauce on naan (the "Clean Slate"), with lavender shortbread and olive oil cake for dessert.
Her new cookbook brings the sandwiches, drinks, and baked goods of Saltie into everyone else's homes -- you don't have to travel to eat their Adult Chip Cookie or the salad-on-a-sandwich Little Dinghy. And if the sandwich names sound like part of a theme, well, you're right: Saltie is probably the world's only Moby Dick-themed eating establishment. Why the white whale? We asked Fidanza just that in our interview:
1. Describe your all-time favorite meal.
It’s hard to know how to approach this one. I’ve had many wonderful meals in this lifetime so I have multiple answers.
There’s the favorite meal prepared by my mom, which is her pizza with a glass of red wine, and maybe a salad or spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. Those two meals are the deepest experience of love and family on a plate that I know.
Then there’s Christmas Eve dinner, which is my favorite holiday meal. This is a big fishy affair usually including clams cooked with something porky and a little cream, cold poached fish salad with garlic and parsley, mussels cooked in light tomato broth, grilled sardines, and linguine with olive oil and garlic.
There are also the dinners that have been cooked for me when I visit my friend Virve in Helsinki. Raw salted fish with dill on black bread, cured salmon, pickled herring with cream sauce, a mountain of rye flour tossed and pan fried little fresh water fish that I don’t know the name of, cucumber salad, fresh berries, vodka and Karhu III (a Finnish beer).
And then there is any meal that I’ve ever had prepared for me by Andrew Tarlow and Kate Huling at their home, or by Dave Gould either when he was working at Marlow and Sons or at Roman’s.
2. How would you describe Saltie to a hungry person in three sentences or less?
Big, over-the-top sandwiches. Lots of eggs and mayonnaise. Not your everyday drinks and sweets.
3. Why a Moby Dick-themed restaurant?
I guess I get fixated on things. If we had opened Saltie a year later, it might have been a Rolling Stones-themed restaurant. I was reading Moby Dick with a group of friends. It took well over a year to finish the book -- the reading of it is as epic as the tale -- and at the time it really stuck with me. I was in a relationship with it. The book is full of nautical nomenclature, classifications of things, terminology. We started researching other nautical terms and realized that so many of them are now commonly used as part of our everyday language. And the language of that book is fun (in places) and certainly nautical terms are fun. The more we looked into it, the more material there was to work with and the deeper we went.
4. What made you decide to create a cookbook based on the restaurant?
I had always been interested in writing a cookbook because I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was working at Diner and Marlow and Sons we started the Diner Journal as a way to sort of write our own cookbook. I was approached by the person who would become my agent to write a Diner cookbook and started on that, but it never really caught wind and it sat on the back burner. When we first opened Saltie, I never would have imagined that anyone would be interested in a book about what we were doing there -- sandwiches! But there was so much enthusiasm for Saltie from the day it opened. People really loved it and were incredibly supportive, and the press was very generous. And of course it’s not just a sandwich shop. So my agent came back to me and said, "Why don’t you do a Saltie book?" So we did. And as we started to work on it I thought, oh yeah, this could be a good book.
5. What is the number-one mistake people make when making sandwiches?
I would say that a dry sandwich is the worst.
(And as a bonus, their adorable cookbook trailer!)