Three-week-old Piggyback Deli is housed in a most unlikely place: a gas station convenience store on the eastern edge of Lynnwood. The gas pumps aren’t quite working yet but Alderwood Food & Deli is open. It sells the typical sundries but–surprise!– where a tired array of fast food warming under heat lamps would normally be there’s a deli case filled with house-made sausages, hot dogs, bacon, porchetta, pastrami, paté and more. There’s also a real kitchen with a couple of chefs grilling those meats for made-to-order sandwiches.
Piggyback’s proprietors are Michael Laroche and Nathan Thomas. Thomas was a chef for NOAA and cooked at sea for six years. Then he met a girl, fell in love and wanted to come ashore. Laroche, whose resume lists several Seattle restaurants, trained with an old-school German butcher in New York City, and worked with Miles James at Dot’s Delicatessen in Fremont. (Piggyback’s “Spicy Pork Sandwich” owes a debt to Dot’s.)
Together they’d been looking for investors and for a place where they could open a butcher shop and “do it right.” Piggyback Deli is, you might say, their hoof-in-the-door, though they had misgivings about the location.
“At first we thought it would be kind of weird, being in a gas station,” said Laroche. “But the walk-in cooler, the hood, the dish pit and the deli case were all here. We decided: it’s a venue, it’s got all the equipment and we could start right up.”
They added a smoker and a grill, and built a lunch counter adjacent to the deli case, just three seats plus standing-room for now, but it’s a start. Sales have broken new records every day since they opened in mid June.
Their biggest challenge has been figuring out what people are interested in. Much to their surprise, they sell a lot of pate. “We thought it would be hot dogs in a gas station.”
They make those franks from grass-fed beef, and to go with it there’s a hot pickled relish made from kale stems. The kale leaves end up layered in their grilled cheese sandwich. I love their smoky, peppery pastrami, and the slender merguez lamb sausages and plump Argentine-style chorizo links were terrific cooked on the grill at home. All the meat is free of hormones and antibiotics.
Of the eight sandwiches ($4.99-$8.99) on the menu, one of the bestsellers is porchetta, a liberally seasoned rolled roast made of pork tenderloin wrapped in pork belly. The sandwich is made with three thick slices topped with arugula and a tangy green herb sauce. It’s superb. Tuesday’s special was a winner too: supremely tender Painted Hills rib-eye with melted gruyere and garlicky chimichurri sauce. Both sandwiches came on a toasted Essential Bakery ciabatta roll (Paleo and gluten-free eaters can have the meat with an herb salad, pickled vegetables and sauce on the side.).
Check Facebook for Piggyback Deli’s hours, menu and daily specials. Note to those who work in the Alderwood area: Piggyback delivers! They felt they had to, Laroche says. “Our main competitor up here is Jimmy John’s.” I say: no competition there.