Sharing Good Food
the man behind the meat at Dot’s Delicatessen
BY REBEKAH DENN
PHOTOS BY KELLY CLINE
The kitchen takes up more than half the space at little Dot’s Delicatessen, so look all you like at the meat grinder, the smoker, the counters where filling is stuffed into casings. Never mind the old saying about not seeing how the sausage is made.
“I want you to see how the sausage is being made, because I’m proud of how we do it,” said owner and chef Miles James. He’s got nothing to hide at the Fremont shop that’s a combination of restaurant, butcher shop, and retail shop—all the things he likes best and wants to share. Not sure what to do with a whole rabbit or chicken from the small meat case up front? Ask him; he’ll cut it up for you and show you how to do it yourself next time.
Since Dot’s opened nearly a year ago, it’s been extolled for its lunchtime Reuben and frites, for silky-rich patés and terrines by the pound, juicy homemade hot dogs and for sides like the killer smoky collards that sometimes show up by the pint.
James just wants to share good food. Head cheese aside, he isn’t looking to push fans beyond their comfort zones. But the nature of his ethics and charcuterie sometimes send him there accidentally, as when some Facebook fans were uncomfortable with his photo of a pig carcass hanging in the smoker. To him, it was a picture of beauty and appreciation—and again, something that customers should see. “If you want to eat it, know where it came from, this little piggy had a great life,” he wrote.
Longtime Seattle restaurant fans probably know James’ cooking whether they realize it or not, from kitchens like Campagne to his own Seattle Hot Dog cart. He started out as a teen dishwasher and then breakfast cook at Glo’s, went to culinary school at Seattle Central Community College, and eventually moved on to the Painted Table, where he met Ethan Stowell, a friend and a good personality match in the kitchen. “You always want to be the best and the fastest, and we were both like that,” he said. He joined Stowell’s first restaurant, Union, then tried a stint at the Gramercy Tavern in New York.
It was at Crémant, the place in Madrona known for French bistro favorites, that he hit his true stride. It seemed to him every other place in Seattle at the time was doing more or less the same thing; think small plates and seared foie gras. Crémant was different. It wasn’t too fancy, it wasn’t about putting a new spin on classics, it was just about doing the classics appropriately and well.
“You put 10 things on a plate, and one can suck and people won’t notice. But steak frites—if the steak sucks or the frites suck, it all sucks. You can’t really get away with anything.”
With Crémant owner Scott Emerick, he started learning the techniques of charcuterie, so different from the skills needed to cook plates to order. Preserving meats required days or weeks of advance work, and recipes that relied on precision and proportions more than than inventing and tasting as he went. “Charcuterie is more like baking than cooking,” he said.
After Crémant closed and the economy tanked, he spent more than a year working construction, taking a break and making sausages for himself at home. Before long, the restaurant bug bit him again. He started up his sausage cart, but found it took as much money and red tape as a restaurant, and that his favorites weren’t a great match for the bar crowd. You guessed it: “I wouldn’t put cream cheese on anything.”
The venture did bring him backers to open Dot’s, though, which was named for his grandmother. James had worked on the Fremont building when he did construction, and remembers thinking “that would be really awesome” for a restaurant.
Today, the word “restaurant” doesn’t precisely define what he does. He sells meat from small suppliers, where he’s comfortable with the conditions where the animals live and where the meat tastes good enough to justify the price premium. He doesn’t always have every cut of every animal, but he can order pretty much whatever customers want with advance notice. On his handful of quirky retail shelves, “Everything is supposed to complement something else. They’re not decorations,” he said. The baguettes and fleur de sel and mustard go with the patés. The cans of Strianese tomatoes are the ones he thinks are best for the ragu you’ll want to make with his pork and beef.
The Reuben sells out faster than he can replenish his pastrami (it takes 7-8 days to brine and smoke, plus a day of rest before it can be sliced), but he rejected the praise he initially got for opening a great sandwich shop across the street from Paseo.
“It’s not a sandwich shop. I’m not trying to compete with Paseo, no one in their right mind would do that!” He sees himself as just a guy who likes making pastrami and bacon, and Reubens and BLTs are a way to showcase them.
He had thought of opening a charcuterie shop with no hood for cooking, but he knows himself too well by now. He’d get bored if he weren’t behind the range.
“I’m a cook that butchers, rather than a butcher.”
To him, Dot’s is a venue for pulled pork and “all this other stuff I wanted to make,” he said. The fun comes when, say, a customer asks why he doesn’t stock liverwurst and he turns around and figures out how it’s done. Next up is developing a required food safety plan so he can work on dry and cured meats.
“It’s just all the stuff I like making and selling. That’s what it is.”
Seattle-based reporter Rebekah Denn has won two James Beard awards for