For me, the simplest way to distinguish between a deli and a sandwich shop is just this: a deli serves Dr. Brown’s soda. If your business claims to be a deli and does not actually serve it, then you are fibbing. Consequently, the European Deli in Athens is not a deli. The Square Bagel in Marietta is. There’s probably another level of authenticity that depends on whether the restaurant serves Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray. Frankly, I think that’s just about the nastiest beverage ever concocted outside of a Jones holiday weirdo pack, but any deli that serves Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray is a proper New York deli.
Marie and I invited Kimberly to go to lunch with us here this past Saturday. We like Kimberly a lot, even if we’re not entirely sure why she’s marrying our friend Randy. “Don’t get me wrong,” I told her once, “if I was trapped in a foxhole behind enemy lines, I’d hope to have somebody as good as him feeding me ammo. But…” and here I paused, “…you do know that he sometimes goes to those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets, don’t you?”
The Square Bagel seems to have been around forever. I ate here once while I was wasting a day waiting to be dismissed from jury service something like the fifth time I’d been called, and it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it; it’s just that during my years as a single dad, I often got in the habit of picking places all the time based on whether they were open for supper. Delis that rely on breakfast and freshly-made bagels for as much of their business as this place does often close before I could get to them back then, and so it slid off my radar for a while, but in considering places to visit for this blog, I figured I was overdue for a return visit and Marie needed to give it a try.
Like the best delis, Square Bagel has one of those absurdly dense menus that take you forever to read through. If you’re going at lunch, it’s obvious you want a sandwich, but unless you know up front that what you want is pastrami, turkey, cheese, slaw and Russian dressing on rye, and that’s not the sort of thing I ever know, you have to dig through a long list of sandwiches with funny names until you find the ingredient list you were looking for.
I don’t know who came up with putting Russian dressing on sandwiches, but that man deserves a beer. One of the little cafes in the Ravinia complex where I used to work served sandwiches like the one I got at Square Bagel and I think I had one for lunch every day for two weeks. Saturday’s was a delicious, nostalgic little treat, really.
Marie had egg salad on a bagel, and she and I both had potato pancakes as our side. She didn’t enjoy her side as much as I did mine, but I’m always happy to have a latke, especially one with such a slight taste of onion as this had. I’ve been trying to wean myself off potato salad, and it’s hard, especially when I wandered over to the counter and saw all the really decadent trays of twelve thousand-calorie dishes cooling there.
Kimberly had some sort of roast beef sandwich with horseradish on the side. We had to debate that point a little. My feeling is that if you’re ordering a sandwich with horseradish, you’re intending for it to be a sinus-clearing hurricane of a meal. Horseradish shows you’re serious, while mayo shows you just want to clog your arteries with fat. Kimberly said that it’s possible for horseradish to be too strong. I call shenanigans on that. The default state of horseradish should be only-just-tolerable; the problem with today’s youth is that they’ve grown up accustomed to that wimpy stuff they serve at Arby’s.
Kimberly’s horseradish came on the side. She took a little smear on her knife and said “Yeah, that’s strong.” I dipped one of her French fries in it and had a big swallow. Nostril hairs I never knew I had stood to attention. “No, that’s just right,” I said.