What Makes a Great Deli?

What Makes a Great Deli?

In New York City, we don’t really have “convenience stores.” Mostly we have corner delis or bodegas, depending on the neighborhood and the owner of the store. They are a little like a convenience store in that my mom would send me there to pick up a carton of eggs or some milk whenever we ran out and my dad always stopped there to pick up his evening paper, but there was more to it than that.

Like the deli section of your grocery store, there is often a variety of meats, breads, and cheeses available for purchasing or slicing. There’s always a load of snacks, too. The better, bigger delis would also have fresh fruits and vegetables (all the better to put on the sandwiches they sell).

The thing that makes a great deli isn’t the selection, believe it or not. Most places will have at least the basics in a decent quality, so that’s not it. It is the quality of the employees. You need somebody that can cut meats thin or thick, that can tell the difference between a hot sausage or a sweet one. They have to be able to add a good ratio of items in a sandwich in order to make a good sandwich. And that’s something you simply have to learn over time.

Another thing that marks a good deli, and again speaks to the quality of the employees, is that the good stuff is made from scratch. Pesto sauce, hummus, potato salads, all that good stuff. It’s better when it is fresh, and what’s fresher than something made in-house? Nothing, that’s my point.

They also need to make a great cup of coffee. That’s something that I consider non-negotiable. I don’t go for that super fancy chain place crap. I’m not looking for something cold-brewed in a seasonal cup using flavored syrups. Just a well-made cup of regular coffee. Fresh, not super bitter, and certainly not burned. It doesn’t sound hard but apparently it is, considering how hard it can be to find.

I don’t care about the size of the store: I’ve been in several that were great and you could honestly say they were the size of a midwestern home’s living room. I also don’t mind a line as long as it moves. Lots of customers often denote the quality of the deli. The more people willing to patiently wait in line, the better the deli probably is (unless it is a tourist trap, and then all bets are off).

Do you have anything that you consider a must-have in a deli? Disagree with any of my statements? Let me know in the comments below, and we can have a nice debate about it. You know, like we would in line at the corner deli if we were neighbors!