Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 | 4:58 p.m.
You're drunk. You've been pounding beers and laughing at friends and freaks singing karaoke all night in your favorite dive bar. You need food, badly, but there's nothing nearby that will satiate this specific type of hunger. We've all been in this position.
This is the unlikely inspiration for Downtown's scrumptious new sandwich shop, Naked City, which opened on December 12. Longtime friends and East Coast transplants Christopher Palmeri and PJ Schaeffer just happen to be big fans of the borderline iconic arts district stronghold known as Dino's Lounge. But they aren't fans of the neighboring dining options, or lack thereof.
"We got sick of eating at the White Cross," Palmeri says. "We love this bar. We've been coming here as long as we've been in Vegas. We'd be here all night and then end up getting something to eat and regretting it."
But unlike us mortals, Palmeri and Schaeffer happen to be professionals. Palmeri is the former executive chef of Diego at MGM Grand, and Schaeffer is still cooking on the Strip. So whether or not the ideas were born in an intoxicated state, plans were hatched. The first move was the creation of Guinea Pigs, a New York-style hot-dog cart slinging Sabretts Friday and Saturday nights in front of Dino's. The cart also makes appearances at First Friday and other Downtown events.
One delicious street food led to another. The tiny smoothie shop next to Dino's was closing. The bar's owners operate the whole building, and their favorite regulars volunteered to step in. Originally, Palmeri says, they wanted to open a chicken-wing joint, being Buffalo natives. But the facility wasn't right. Then the Naked City concept came on: sandwich simplicity.
Everything is made from scratch, from the roasted meats in the sandwiches to the garlic mayonnaise spread on top and the humongous habañero-spiced pickle riding shotgun. The only thing not created in-house is the bread, but even with a simple roll you get the option of a Kaiser, a classic Kimmelweck dotted with salt chunks and caraway seed or a Black Russian swirl. For proteins, choose between tri-tip, honey ham, turkey or Italian sausage.
Another surprise is the quality and quantity of vegetarian options. Three different salads can be ordered without meat, and the veggie sandwich is based on a stuffed-pepper pizza recipe Palmeri remembers from back East — a mix of eggplant, crimini mushroom and garlic.
"We want to give people options," he says. "It turns out that over half the items on the menu are vegetarian ... We don't want a vegetarian dish to be an afterthought. It has to taste good."
The menu will change and expand when the young chefs, who have two decades of restaurant experience between them, find the right combinations. "We're going to put pastrami on, but we're working it out. I'm not just going to go out and buy pastrami," Palmeri says. "We are getting the brine just right. As we get more established, we'll do everything. But you're never going to see 50 items on our menu."
Satisfaction is the name of the game, so Naked City delivers to Downtown businesses during the day and stays open until 10 p.m. Closing time is closer to midnight on weekends — and then the hot-dog cart comes out. "And the cart stays open until the people are gone," Palmeri says.
As anyone who's done karaoke at Dino's knows, that can be pretty late.