Think back to the prime Brooklyn-as-brand days and all that you associate with it: the DIY movement, straight-from-the-farm ingredients, a somewhat inexplicable love of nautical imagery, and Williamsburg. Saltie, the beloved Brooklyn sandwich shop closing at the end of this month, encapsulates all of those—and yet somehow, even now, feels ahead of its time.
Caroline Fidanza, the former chef of Diner, opened Saltie on Metropolitan Avenue in 2009. The premise was and is simple: They’d be open from 10 to 6 every day except Monday, while she and a small crew served sandwiches with all house-made components, including the airy focaccia and naan. There’s a pastry case, with a few offerings that rotated, and an array of fermented drinks. There’s a soup or salad or two. It’s all outrageously good.
One of the reasons is that the sandwiches are full of ingredients that packed a punch, things like capers, anchovies, yogurt sauces and a dozen kinds of pickles. Fidanza is a graduate of the city’s Natural Gourmet Institute, where the curriculum focuses on probiotic and gut-friendly, largely vegetarian food. As a result, Saltie’s sandwiches are delectable and healthy. She even devoted a whole sandwich to curing what ails you, The Clean Slate; it’s a filling, messy, tangy delight. There is little meat on the menu, but with all the acid, crunch and fermented goodness, nobody misses it.
And for being such a tiny shop, Saltie’s appeal goes well beyond Williamsburg. Perhaps because she was associated with one of the city’s best restaurants for a decade, and because she’s an amazingly talented chef, Fidanza was already a food star when the doors opened. She was (and still is) beloved by restaurant industry leaders and food media. Her book, Saltie: A Cookbook (written with Anna Dunn, Rebecca Collerton, and Elizabeth Schula), was a trailblazer. Look at present-day cookbook publishing and you can see characteristics of Saltie’s book as now standard: the photographers Gentl & Hyers are everywhere; the restaurant’s physical space and its quirky details are just as important as the recipes; its customers are profiled and featured throughout; and there are plenty of Instagram-like photos.
After nearly nine years, Fidanza says she’s ready to see what else is out there and move on to something new. Though heart-breaking for fans, there is a silver lining: Anyone longing for Fidanza’s hearty-healthy food after this month will be pleased to hear that the Saltie cookbook does a perfect job capturing everything to love about the restaurant. Jenni Ferrari-Adler, the agent who signed up the book, describes it as “great food tucked into a sandwich book.” The bad news is that it’s out of print.
While you won’t be able to go to the shockingly small, always-welcoming storefront any longer, you will be able to re-create the Saltie vibe as long as you own the book. According to Sarah Billingsley, an editor at Chronicle, there are still copies in the warehouse, but once they’re gone, you’re out of luck. Buy your copy before it’s too late.