I know…yesterday’s sudden and as yet unexplained closure of both Paseo Cuban takeouts is shaping up to be one of those historic stunners of the remember-where-we-were-when-we-heard-it variety. When I solemnly broke the news to my high school daughter last night, you’d have thought Macklemore had decided on law school.
It’s a suitable comparison, for both have been significant sources of youthful civic pride in this town. Paseo, after all, wasn’t just where you went to satisfy a craving—though ohmygawdyes it was that. It was also where you brought out-of-towners and newcomers to establish your Seattle cred. In my experience no restaurant name was more frequently dropped among the young and the bearded than Paseo, a place that for all its popularity not quite everyone knew…which gave it the kind of cult cachet its cheap, hole-in-the-wall character only burnished.
But was Paseo perfect? Hell, no. Amidst a city’s rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, now may be a good time to remind the grief-stricken that…
You had to wait in line. Always. Never not. Both Fremont and Ballard. Reliably. Being a restaurant nerd, I took notes. Last visit to Fremont, Saturday early lunch: 40 minutes. Last visit to Ballard, Sunday early dinner: 30 minutes.
You had to wait in line outside. Such was the heroin-level craving for sandwiches like the Caribbean Roast, waiting unprotected in the gusting winds and sideways rain were unpleasantly customary. I remember one night sliding precariously in my car down Fremont Avenue in a crazy frigid blizzard and noting drily that these were clearly optimal conditions for a Paseo visit, where the line looked like it was only maybe…oh, ten minutes.
You had to pay cash. Really Paseo?
There were no seats. Few anyway—indoors at Fremont, outside on picnic tables at Ballard. This was really only a problem since…
…the sandwiches were insanely messy. Like, can’t possibly get through one without a plate and a fork, a lesson my kid learned the hard way when she snuck one once (that’s all it took) into a movie theater. If I had a nickle for every blop of greasy aioli or caramelized onion I had to scrub out of my car upholstery I’d be loaded enough to buy Lorenzo Lorenzo’s marinade recipes and reopen the joint myself. (Hey tech trillionaires: You reading this?)
It was inconsistent. Hate to go all restaurant-critic on you, but let’s face it: Sometimes they overcooked the pork.
They ran out of stuff. Pretty frequently. Bread mostly, as I recall, which they’d inform diners of with the world’s most disappointing sign. (Who runs out of bread?)
Sometimes they’d close…for a month. Long, sudden winter breaks were the norm at Paseo, which I’m sure brought much-needed vacations to the hard-workers—even as it wrought havoc with a city’s aforementioned heroin-thing.
There was the lemming factor. Little left me feeling more like a Seattle cliché—like, God help me, a “foodie”—than giving up the better part of an afternoon for a sandwich. Particularly since…
…other sandwiches in Seattle are just as good. Yep, I said it. And I mean it. Indeed, I spent a great deal of time last winter proving it, for our 25 Drop-Dead Extraordinary Sandwiches feature last March. Particularly noteworthy stand-ins for the Caribbean Roast would include the Puerco Asado pork shoulder masterpiece at La Bodega, the salsa verte drenched Porchetta at Rain Shadow Meats, and the Swinery Spectacular (pulled pork, ham, and pork belly) at the Swinery in West Seattle. Now released from the gargantuan shadow of the Caribbean Roast, sandwiches like these have their big chance to break out from their relative obscurity.