Good bread defines a good grilled sandwich. Too thick of bread, and the sandwich can become unwieldy, overpowering the filling. Too thin and the bread can annoyingly self destruct just when you get three bites deep. You know a good grilled sandwich when you bite into it: Crunchy bread with a touch of softness; layers of meat glued together with cheese; a smear of a flavorful condiment.
Two new Tacoma sandwich shops have opened in the last several months that get the bread, the fillings, and grilling right. One is Rain City Café, which opened two months ago across from the Tacoma Municipal Building. The other is Leila’s Deli, which opened in July just steps away from the Tacoma Dome in the same building as Crystal Voyage (check back tomorrow for a report on Leila’s).
Rain City Café is the Tacoma outpost of Seattle’s Mike’s East Coast Panini sandwiches, a wholesaler that supplies hospitals and coffee shops in Seattle with ready-to-grill sandwiches. So why the East Coast moniker for the sandwiches? I have no idea. The sandwiches seem perfectly at home here on the West Coast. Whatever their coast of origin, the sandwiches tasted just like I want them: crisply grilled (but not too crisp), gooey cheese and layers of meat and flavorful accompaniments.
Rain City Café lists 10 paninis, four of which are vegetarian. I took interest in the turkey, ham and bacon Belltown Club, but I decided to overlook the sandwich named after a Seattle neighborhood (a-hem). For my vegetarian friends, the tapenade with feta and basil sounded unusual, and the Gimme the Greek with hummus, tapenade, feta and mixed greens sounded downright delicious. Five of the sandwiches come on medium-sliced como bread, a sturdy bread with a chewy bite. The others come on panino rolls.
Rain City also offers something I like: Baked goods from Tacoma’s Corina Bakery in the display case. Need another reason to visit? How about $2 flavored lattes and mochas – 16 ounces- every morning from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Yeah, you read that correctly, discounted coffee during peak coffee sipping time.
The restaurant also serves soups, but I sampled one on a visit and took a pass on the salty, but flavorless chicken soup. They buy the soups prepared, and don’t make them in house, the counter help told me.
The café is warm with a funky, decorative edge. Local artwork is displayed, and sturdy wood tables offer plenty of room for lunch meetings. There’s no table service: Place your order at the counter, then listen for your name to be called for your order.
Grilled sandwiches are made to order and cost $6.95 each. An everyday special features a sandwich discounted to $5.50. The East Coast was served on sliced como bread with a garlicky smear of pesto mayo. Mama Lil’s marinated goathorn peppers provided a peppery bite alongside sweet rings of sliced red onions and thick-sliced roma tomatoes. A few layers of provolone glued together the meat: genoa salami and mortadella, a cured pork sausage that has the texture and flavor of a delicious, salty salami. The chipotle chicken also came on sliced como and was coated with a thin layer of chipotle tinged mayo. Sliced chicken breast and melted pepper jack butted against sliced tomatoes. The promised lettuce was missing in the sandwich.
Want more panini sandwiches near downtown? Villa Caffe and Imbibery has been my favorite go-to grilled sandwich spot downtown since it opened in January this year, but tomorrow I’ll be writing about Leila’s, a deli near the Tacoma Dome that makes equally delicious grilled sandwiches.
Rain City Café and Coffee Company
Where: 744 Market St., Tacoma