5445 Old Seward Hwy.
$4-$14 per plate
8 a.m to 3:30 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
With Rebecca Palsha back in the newsroom after the birth of her new daughter Poppy, I've been thinking about her numerous food recommendations, since reporters tend to know something about where in town to find good food fast. I decided to visit one of her favorite haunts in her honor, curious about why she was so drawn to it.
Sis's Cafe and Catering is situated in a strip mall behind trees along the Old Seward Highway, slightly south of its intersection with International Airport Road: there's a sign for its businesses out front, but you've got to keep an eye on the east side of the road to find it easily. The mall itself has plenty of parking, although I had to park on the far side of the lot because all of the spaces in front of Sis's were taken -- a promising sign for any restaurant, in my experience.
When I walked into Sis's, I was fortunate enough to take the last available table in the restaurant; the dining room is quite small, with perhaps 10 tables in all surrounding a bustling beverage/cashier station which also processes an impressive number of take-out orders both in person and by phone.
During my visit, waiting all of the tables and accepting all of the take-out orders being handled by one extremely overworked yet efficient employee, who said a colleague was taking a vacation; I didn't mind the wait myself, although the slower service may have contributed to the small group of people seeking tables that built up near the door after my arrival.While Sis's serves a limited breakfast menu until 9:30 a.m., the heart of both its operating hours and main menu are focused on lunch, with an impressive array of hot and cold sandwiches backed by several soup and salad options.
I used the slowdown in service to carefully peruse the menu, surprised at the variety available in such simple fundamentals, finally ordering an Italian panini sandwich ($9.95) to stick with something simple; once the order was placed it took about 20 minutes to come out of the kitchen, which also seemed lightly staffed at a glance.The panini was a study in deceptive appearances, and far more of a meal than I'd anticipated. Rather than the typical grilled sandwich I'd been expecting, the crusty baguette from the menu arrived tall and proudly untoasted, its six-inch portion cut into no fewer than three section each secured with a toothpick lest its hugely overloaded interior spill at a first bite.
Despite the precautions it was a gloriously messy sandwich, my hunger driven by the surprising way its ingredients paired off to create flavors which were more than the sum of their parts: salami and pastrami with corned beef, Parmesan cheese with provolone, Roma tomatoes with field greens, balsamic vinegar with sun-dried tomato basil aioli. Rather than pile up and overwhelm the taste buds, each part -- meats, cheeses, veggies, condiments -- seemed carefully selected for inclusion in the sandwich, which made it a joy to consume.
Sis's serves sandwiches with a variety of side options and substitutions, but I chose to go with standard options from the menu, namely a Greek pasta salad and some chips. The pasta salad was undoubtedly a good choice, a generous cupful of rotini blended with added accents ranging from sun-dried tomatoes to bits of peppers and artichoke, all tossed in a sweet and slightly spiced olive oil; it was filling without being too heavy as pasta salads can easily become, much of the oil eventually draining through the salad as I ate to stay in the cup rather than weigh it down. The chips were simple tortilla rounds, largely present as a garnish which I used to scoop up some of the excess contents of the panini between wolfing down major sections of the sandwich.
On the way out, I made an impulse buy from a dessert rack near the cash register, picking out an Oreo brownie ($2.35) from a selection of pastries and cookies. A woman who had chosen the same looked over at me and asked, "Have you ever had one of those?" I admitted that I hadn't, and her face lit up with a gleeful smile: "It's the bomb!" Suitably impressed, I drove back to the station and cut the brownie into thirds, sharing it with fellow Web employees Neil Torquiano and Jeff Rivet: we were all mildly disappointed to discover that the brownie didn't contain actual Oreo cookies, but it was ridiculously rich and soft, a trait helped by the layer of creme between the upper and lower halves of the brownie from which its name truly came. It was a cut above most brownies I've had, and I somewhat regretted not having bought a second one.
Sis's is a sandwich shop like few other I've visited in town, one that elevates the craft beyond simply putting meat on bread; its focus does it credit in building a memorable meal, since it doesn't reach beyond lunch standards or hours and dilute its efforts with a dinner menu.
It's also surprising to find such a gem so close to Channel 2, although if anybody would sniff it out it would surely be Rebecca. The next time she stops by Sis's to wolf something down before coming back to edit one of her video packages, I'll have to call her up and and see if she can't return to the station with more than a story.
Contact Chris Klint