Knuckle Sandwich's grinders come cut into fist-size halves—fist-size if you happen to be a massive Sicilian enforcer—and they're as forthright and sloppy as a street brawl. This old-school sandwich shop situated next to a new-school barber on East Burnside Street is more '80s South Brooklyn slinger than Portland chichi, despite the kale salad and drawings of tatted-up comic superheroes. It's the type of place you expect to allow its grill to season for a decade or two, absorbing a little more flavor with each sandwich cooked.
The Burnside ($8.50) is mountainous, with house-roasted beef overflowing out of the bun with Cheez Whiz, jalapeños, sweet-hot peppers and crisped sweet onions. It's less an ode to excess than a cheery wallow in it, a motorcycle tour of textures: The creaminess of the whiz is offset by the satisfying crunch of onion and snappy pepper, backed up by generous beef. You gotta get your hands dirty to eat it, but who told Portland she couldn't get her hands dirty? The sandwich is dessert, after a hard day's work and a meal of happy-hour lager.
The smoked brisket's bark is flavorful, but its interior is a little dry, making spicy barbecue sauce an essential accent on the sandwich ($9). Instead, get the brisket in the eye-wateringly peppery chili ($1.50), which should adorn every meal you have at the shop. The Da Dip ($8.50) with au jus is notable for the quality of the roast beef, but it lacks the carbon-laden flavor overload of other items on the menu.
The new shop has had trouble opening consistently at its scheduled time, it only sometimes answers the phone, and in a post-Square world it directs cash-free patrons to an ATM that charges a $1.50 fee. But Knuckle also has a quality that's all too rare in this world: integrity. When they were out of Pearl Bakery buns one day, they dropped the price of their sandwich by a buck and a half, and they told me why. This, my friends, is why your granddad still misses a world where the Dodgers called Brooklyn home.
- Order this: A Burnside and a chili bowl.
- Best deal: Just $1.50 for that brisket chili? Golden.
EAT: Knuckle Sandwich, 2137 E Burnside St., 477-9862. 11 am-9 pm daily.