Between Two Slices: Darke Pines’ Downtowner

Our sandwich correspondent checks out a new Jersey City spot from the owners of nearby Darke Pines butcher shop.

It’s a muggy, mid-summer day and I’m standing in the rain, dying to try a handful of sandwiches from Downtowner, a new deli in downtown Jersey City from the owners of the nearby butcher shop, Darke Pines.

I’m slightly hungover, dehydrated, and starving. In other words, the perfect combination for an epic meal of sandwiches. Downtowner offers a variety of sandwiches, both with locally-sourced meats and tasty vegetarian options, all served on Balthazar’s breads. But you can also pick up salads, spreads, sides, and other goodies like homemade granola and Rice Krispie treats. The sandwich part of the menu is heavily balanced, featuring salty and rich combinations like smoked ham with pimento cheese, and mellower options like roasted sweet potato with sprouts.

The inside of Downtowner is small and cozy, with a small bar table and a couple stools in the corner. But during these strange times of the pandemic, the shop is currently take-out only. Having more than enough time waiting in line, I locked in my order. I got the roast beef, the smoked ham, the roasted sweet potato, and a daily-special tomato sandwich. Let’s break it down.

Heirloom tomato sandwich. Photo by Chris Gennone

I decided to start off light. I dug into the tomato sandwich which featured heirloom tomatoes, sweet basil aioli, olive oil, topped with shallot confit on Balthazar’s sourdough bread. What a delight and a pleasant surprise this was. The tomatoes were incredibly juicy and sweet, reminding me that tomatoes really are fruits. The olive oil and basil aioli combination was the perfect herbal glue that brought this sandwich together. And the shallot confit added a satisfyingly sweet, oniony finish. If you’ve never had Balthazar’s sourdough before, let me tell you that it is the perfect vehicle for these sandwiches. It’s thick, soft, doughy, and hearty. This sandwich was so good and I was so hungry that I just ate the entire half before trying the others.

Tomato Sandwich:

Bread: 5/5
Filling: 4.5/5
Toppings: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Roast beef sandwich. Photo by Chris Gennone

Next up, I tried the roast beef. This sandwich included house roast beef, horseradish cream, basil, and shallot confit on sourdough. Now, I don’t know if I hyped this sandwich up too much in my head, judging from social media posts and amazing pictures I’ve seen of it. But I have to say that I was slightly let down. I could tell the beef was fresh and had a beautiful pink color, but the horseradish cream was a little bland and didn’t elevate it enough. However, the fresh basil really complimented this sandwich well. I almost could’ve used more of it. It was still a solid sandwich with fresh ingredients, but it fell a little flat for me.

Roast Beef:
Bread: 5/5
Filling: 4/5
Toppings: 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Roasted sweet potato sandwich. Photo by Chris Gennone

I decided to cool off and try the roasted sweet potato sandwich with sprouts, pickled mustard seeds, and shallot confit on sourdough. I was really intrigued by this one, though it took me a few bites to really appreciate it. The sweet potato was soft and slightly mushy, but still solid enough to hold together. The sprouts and pickled mustard seeds gave it a refreshing crunch and crispness it desperately needed. The shallot confit rounded out the sweetness nicely. Not mind-blowing but very solid.

Roasted Sweet Potato:
Bread: 5/5
Filling: 3.7/5
Toppings: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.7.5

Smoked Ham sandwich at Downtown in Jersey City. Photo by Chris Gennone

Finally, I dove into the smoked ham with pimento cheese and dill pickle on sourdough. Whatever doubts I had after eating the roast beef quickly evaporated after trying the ham. The meat was piled high and had such a strong smoky, fatty, and delicious taste, that I think I blacked out for a few seconds. The pimento cheese was so rich and creamy, I had to stop and put the sandwich down. It had to be savored. The ham and cheese combination was so powerful, I almost forgot there were pickles in the middle of the sandwich. But this sandwich was a heavy-handed gut punch of flavor. I didn’t plan it, but I had saved the best for last. Incredible sandwich. But remember to savor it.

Smoked Ham:
Bread: 5/5
Fillings: 4.9/5
Toppings: 4/5
Overall: 4.7/5

All of Downtowner’s ingredients are locally sourced, butchered in-house at Darke Pines, and the quality shows. The tomatoes you buy at the grocery store are tangy and sometimes flavorless. But when you buy them directly from farmers, you can taste the difference. Having housemade bread would’ve been a huge bonus, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting a sandwich on Balthazar’s sourdough bread, which served as the perfect vehicle for these sandwich combinations. I respect the simplicity of the ingredients. Too many toppings and fillings can destroy it. But most of these sandwiches could’ve used a little extra punch of something, whether it’s a little mayo or a stronger condiment. Still, I really enjoyed my choices and am excited to see the different combinations appear on future menus. The world can never have enough sandwich shops, and I’m happy Downtowner is here.

Between Two Slices Overall Score: 3.7/5

For Next Time: Nana’s Chicken Salad sandwich with romaine on a croissant

Downtowner, 9 Erie Street, Jersey City; Open for take-out only on Fridays and Saturdays from 11am until sold out. [Editor’s note: Downtowner is closed for a summer break from July 31–August 8.]

Darke Pines, 332 2nd Street, Jersey City; Open Tues from 2pm-6pm and Wed-Sat from 12pm-6pm.

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