Smoked and Stacked, chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s fast-casual joint at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, opened Friday with a promise to fill the gap in the city's pastrami offerings.
When peeking inside one of her sandwiches -- or watching her muscle a sheet tray piled high with whole briskets -- the meat shows off a proper wiggle. Take a bite, and each slice will yield melting plugs of rendered fat cap.
With a "Top Chef" alum at the helm and an Instagram account full of food pictures that can induce a Pavlovian response, Smoked and Stacked has met the hype: On opening day, the restaurant moved about 200 pastrami sandwiches and sold out of the smoked meat by 2:30 p.m.
After a few days of business, the chef has been able to increase her production, but she's maintained a careful pace. The brisket undergoes an eight-day curing process and about a five-hour cook, meaning it'll be a week or so until she's caught up. “I can basically cook about 100 pounds of raw pastrami a day, and that yields like 60 pounds of cooked pastrami,” Meek-Bradley said. “It’s not that I can make like 500 sandwiches a day right now.”
It's worth arriving early to get a sandwich. Not overly peppery or burdened with pickling spice, the Smoked and Stacked's pastrami avoids many of the pitfalls of its D.C. competitors. On the Stacked sandwich, thick, fatty slices of brisket tear apart under a light chomp. The meat is topped with a tangy cole slaw and Dijon mustard on house-made milk bread, a voluminous roll the chef describes as a mix between King’s Hawaiian bread and Brioche.
Unlike the monstrous pastrami sandwich at Stachowski's Market in Georgetown, the smoky flavor of Meek-Bradley's pastrami tastes genuine, without the smock of liquid smoke -- an instant turnoff. (Stachowski's owners say they don't use liquid smoke in their pastrami.) The $13 price tag beats the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches at DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle by two bucks, and the portions feel more generous at Smoked and Stacked. The meat at DGS has a delicious cured punch, but there simply isn't enough of it on the sandwich.
For my money, the standard is Wagshal’s deli in Northwest, which has a lineup of rich twists on cured brisket. The sandwiches there deconstruct quickly, walking a fine line between guilty pleasure and grease overload. Meek-Bradley’s Stacked sandwich has a better balance of condiments to meat.
Meek-Bradley doesn't think her pastrami is perfect yet, but she does feel good about it. One issue she's had to overcome: the process of slicing the meat. “I thought I was going to slice it to order. That’s definitely not happening,” she said with a laugh, explaining that she’s moved to slicing by the brisket rather than by sandwich.
The hardest part of opening has been telling customers the pastrami has sold out. “It’s crazy. I think next time I open a business, I’m not calling anybody,” Meek-Bradley said. “I definitely might keep it to myself a little bit longer next time. We got crushed, and I hate disappointing people.”