Biting into a $13 sandwich at a just OK family-style restaurant, I had questions: What’s going on with menu prices? Why is this $13 sandwich so crummy?
It wasn’t an isolated incident.
Bottom line: Menu prices are on the rise everywhere. I can’t really complain much about it. Since the recession, restaurants have delayed price increases to keep diners coming back, post-recession. Now those restaurants are playing catch-up.
My mission is to find the best dining deals, though, and that led me to discovering that bars are among the most affordable destinations for good sandwiches. That’s likely because they profit off of something many diners always will shell out for — booze.
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At the top of my bar sandwich list right now is Eleven Eleven, owned by the Peterson brothers.
I like to call Justin and Rob Peterson the royal family of Tacoma’s bar scene. The twin brothers are descendants of one of the original owners of The Swiss Restaurant & Pub and co-owners of three bars that serve outstanding sandwiches — Eleven Eleven in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, The Valley in the Dome District and Peaks and Pints in the Proctor neighborhood.
Their sandwiches at Eleven Eleven deserve some attention because they’re different from your typical bar sandwich menu. While the bar has a lengthy menu of meat-based sandwiches, it also has a wide selection of meatless options.
Six meatless sandwiches are all priced under 10 bucks and they’re as well constructed as their meaty counterparts.
That those sandwiches are completely void of animal products is a tasty bonus. As more diners turn to meatless dining options once or more a week— hello, Meatless Monday readers — I am fielding more questions asking where to go to get a good sandwich that also skips the meat.
Eleven Eleven’s meatless sandwiches are safe for vegans, but also appeal broadly to meat eaters in search of a sandwich that won’t boost those pesky cholesterol numbers.
The meatless Eleven Eleven sandwiches follow the formula that has collected a following for the Petersons: They’re built with a perfect ratio of bread to fillings, hot goo is an imperative component, cool crunch is always represented and there’s typically a moist-maker condiment that keeps things tasty and well lubricated.
When the bar opened in 2012, they had two meatless sandwiches on the menu. The bar’s current six-sandwich meatless menu grew out of the bar’s meatless taco Tuesdays.
“So we started doing vegan tacos on Tuesdays. That started maybe five months ago,” Justin Peterson said. “We started bringing in soy curls and a couple different products after that. Then we thought, let’s make some sandwiches out of that too.”
And so they did. They added a meatless Reuben, meatless Philly, meatless Buffalo melt and a chickpea salad sandwich to a menu that already listed a meatless melt and cold vegan sandwich. They’re all priced $9.99 and come with a bag of chips.
Peterson and staff did the proper research for all ingredients.
“We called our vendors,” he said. “We wanted to make sure from their ingredient lists that we were sure they were vegan.”
Menu planning included tastings and test runs. They spoke with current and former meat-avoiding staffers.
“We brought them all in for the taste tests and we consulted with them,” he said. “We were messing around for four months to get the final flavors on the sandwiches.”
Where they wound up follows the same pattern for their other bar sandwiches — simple and tasty. What also sets the sandwiches apart are the house-made sauces, dressings and the house seitan — pronounced say-tan. They use that thinly sliced meat substitute on the meatless Philly, Reuben and melt.
Just call it wheat meat.
“It’s kind of like making a dough,” Peterson said. “We use nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten and mix it with seasoning, soy sauce and lemon zest. You have to fold it into a dough. It almost looks like a loaf of bread.”
“While we make that, we start a seasoned pot of water, flavored with soy sauce, it’s like a broth,” he said. “You basically cut the bread into 3-to-4-inch sections. It’s like cutting off pizza dough into portions. We put that into the water and boil it.”
After it’s done cooking, it’s cooled and then thinly sliced “nice and thin like a deli meat,” Peterson said.
From there, it’s ready to be grilled to order. It carries just the right level of umami that so many commercial meat-free substitutes lack.
That thinly sliced seitan anchors my favorite sandwich, the meatless Reuben made with a vegan-safe thousand island dressing that packs a pucker, plus sauerkraut, a gooey layer of melted dairy-free “cheese” and a marbled rye hoagie with a tease of caraway ($9.99).
The Philly on a French hoagie was likewise stacked with several layers of seitan and finished with expertly grilled bell peppers, onions and what seemed like an inch of melted dairy-free cheese that pushed the sandwich to the top of my list for its goo factor ($9.99).
The vegan melt with lettuce, tomato and onion on sourdough also came with seitan and a secret flavor weapon —house-made chimichurri heavy on fresh herbs and wallop of garlic ($9.99).
The Buffalo melt is made with a purchased product — soy curls — liberally doused in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, cooled with house-made, dairy-free ranch dressing and anchored with lots of gooey dairy-free cheese ($9.99).
Cold sandwich lovers should look to the artichoke-avocado-chimichurri sandwich with crunchy vegetables tucked into a sourdough hoagie ($9.99). The chickpea salad sandwich can be made a melt for two bucks, but I liked it just fine with its simple vegan dressing and crunchy onions and celery on a hoagie with lettuce, tomato and red onion ($9.99).
A note about the service when it comes to dining meat free. I’m accustomed to bars with excellent meatless options — especially The Red Hot and Top of Tacoma — but it’s rare to encounter bar staffers who walk meat avoiders so expertly through the menu.
On one visit, a server warned that one of the accompanying bags of chips contained dairy. Another offered an off-menu meatless substitution. Well done.
Eleven Eleven/Peterson Bros
Where: 1111 S. 11th St., Tacoma.
Info: 253-284-1111 or elevenelevenbar.com
Hours: 11 a.m.- 2 a.m. daily.
Note: A bar for diners 21-and-older only.