It’s been several years that I’ve passed by the stand that sells Italian sandwiches at the Issaquah Farmers Market. I’ve tried most of the other food vendors’ fare, and none of them has left a lasting impression. That was about to change. WiseGuy Italian Street Food serves two hot hero sandwiches: sausage and pepper and Italian meatball. There are big pans of each filling cooking over stoves that attract passersby. Though WiseGuy at the market operates under a canopy, it normally is a food truck operation that roams the east side of Lake Washington.
How better to sandwich both fillings than using Le Panier‘s baguette, a wonderfully light bread with a thin, crackly crust. It could almost be suitable for banh mi. (Le Panier’s pastries and sandwiches, served at Pike Place Market, are fantastic in their own right.) Each sandwich uses one-third of a loaf.
The foundations of the best Italian meatball sandwiches are flavorful, succulent meatballs, a great marinara and the right bread, neither too soft nor thickly crusty. WiseGuy delivers on all counts. The bread is sliced in half horizontally like a book, packed with humongous meatballs and sauced. The marinara is terrific with no dominating herbal notes. Instead of using mozzarella, grated provolone is sprinkled along the cut length. Not a bad thing, just different. The only problem, if I can call it that, is the colossal size of the meatballs which are difficult to sink your teeth into; the sauce acts like lubricant that slides the meat down the bread. Only taking a bigger than normal bite or attacking the sandwich from above makes any progress. Unhinging your jaws works, too. Apart from that, what a great sandwich, as good as we’ve had in a long time. (☆☆☆☆)
The most popular sandwich seems to be the sausage and pepper hero. The way the sandwich is constructed is interesting. A plastic rod nearly as wide in diameter as the bread is pushed into the cut end but not all the way through, forming a deep pocket into which is stuffed the filling. The technique may seem gimmicky but it is quick and an inspired way to keep the stuffing contained. The sausage flavor is excellent, the red bells perfectly cooked and the filling spicy from dried red pepper flakes. The sandwich is the ideal combination of bread and savory, zesty and spicy Italian flavors. (☆☆☆☆)
We enjoyed these last week, enough so that we made it a point to go back to the market today and try some variations.
An alternative to the sausage hero is a combination of sausages and meatball. The same hollowed-out baguette is mostly filled with the sausages and peppers. The last couple of inches is plugged with a single giant meatball. I’ll call it The Corker because it doesn’t appear on WiseGuy’s menu. Many customers order it this way. Whether in the future I have The Corker or not will depend on my mood that day. (☆☆☆☆)
To address the slipping meatball problem, my wife got the option wherein—you guessed it—the meatballs are instead stuffed into an excavated loaf. So as not to skimp on the sauce, the server drizzles a spoonful of marinara in between each ball. Sure enough, no more slippage. But even so, part of the ecstatic pleasure of eating a meatball sandwich is the marinara itself, lots of it, which clearly a stuffed sandwich severely restricts. You trade convenience for sloppiness. In yet a third variation, you can get the traditional sliced bread with meatballs cut in half.
WiseGuy Italian Street Food
Issaquah Farmers Market and food truck