Lobbyist/fundraiser turned sandwich maker

The directions for the sandwich bar at Jackson’s Roasting and Carving Co. are similar to those of most other lunch spots — (1) choose your meat, (2) choose your bread and (3) choose your cheese and condiments.

Like Subway or Quiznos, you can add chips and a soft drink to round out the meal.

Where Jackson’s departs from the many chain sandwich shops, however, is evident at the far end of its food counter. On a white carving board the size of a tabletop sit several hunks of freshly roasted meat: herb-roasted turkey, beer-braised corned beef, smoked pit ham, herb-roasted top round of beef and homemade meatloaf.

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Servers hand-carve fresh pieces of meat for each sandwich. For turkey lovers, it’s the Thanksgiving Day turkey sandwich they look forward to each year; meatloaf freaks get the equivalent of a generous helping of Mom’s special recipe between sliced bread; and every day is St. Patrick’s Day at Jackson’s for those who can’t get enough corned beef.

Owner Stefanie Reiser worked her way up Washington’s political ladder but always knew she might take on a food venture.

“I really am a foodie at heart,” says Reiser, who came to Washington from her native Pella, Iowa, in 1986 and landed in the office of then-Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

She then worked at the National Economic Council in the George H.W. Bush administration and lobbied for the California state government. Reiser rounded out her career as a fundraiser for former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).

But her Iowa roots gave her the most guidance when opening Jackson’s. She remembers finding the best sandwiches in her hometown at butcher shops.

“Those guys know meat,” she says.

{mospagebreak}Reiser is no amateur on this topic, either.

On a recent Friday, a sourdough turkey sandwich came out with three thick slices of warm meat, and the special Cubano included pieces of a tender, herby roasted pork with tangier ham piled on top. Customers can choose among homemade condiments, including a balsamic ketchup, the Tiger Sauce (which combines horseradish with Caesar dressing) and The Giddy Up barbecue sauce. (One of Reiser’s favorite sandwich combinations is meatloaf with the barbecue sauce. “I toast my sourdough, and put in the meatloaf and barbecue sauce, and you’re good to go,” she says.)

Mayonnaise variations are plentiful, too, from pesto to chipotle and smoked paprika. Fresh tomatoes, sliced red onions, leafy green lettuce, cucumbers, pickles and several cheeses offer an array of toppings.

While the turkey’s herbs carried the sandwich’s flavor, the accompanying pesto mayo fell flat on providing any extra zip. The vegetable add-ons — lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions and pickles — did add to the sandwich’s heartiness, providing a crisp crunch to each bite.

The Cubano, on the other hand, was bursting with flavor. The Swiss cheese had a delightful sharpness; the deli mustard balanced the subtler tang of the roasted pork. The sandwich even came out with authentic grill marks on a traditional Cuban baguette. The one drawback was — again — the mayonnaise. It frequently gooped out of the sandwich’s ends.

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Side dishes are all house-made and provide a needed alternative to potato chips. During the week of St. Patrick’s Day, the store offered a special potato salad with corned beef, which added a welcome protein to what can otherwise be an overly starchy dish. The macaroni salad displayed nice color, with diced carrots and red onions, and surprised the palate with a fresh and pleasant dill flavor.

Reiser says her best-sellers depend on the day and the season. The meatloaf surged during winter, probably because people crave comfort food during cold months, she guesses. As for weekly trends, everybody wants turkey sandwiches on Mondays, she says.

“I think they’re making up for the sins of the weekend,” Reiser says.

Reiser may yet go back to politics. She says another one of her lifelong ideas has been to run for office. But at the moment, Jackson’s has her full attention. She already offers breakfast and coffee, and Reiser may expand the menu to include dinner options in the barbecue style of a meat and several sides. She even took a recent trip back to Iowa for an informal apprenticeship on smoking meats.

Until then, daily sandwich eaters who want to break out of their foot-long-special routine can find a fresh, hand-crafted meal at Jackson’s.