River Street Deli, Chattanooga TN

A truly hidden little space on the North Shore first caught my eye several years ago. I finally visited for the first time this past summer and loved it. A follow-up visit one Saturday last month confirmed its greatness.

One of those clickbait stories made the rounds last summer, professing to offer a list of Chattanooga’s “hidden” restaurants. It did no such thing. It listed some very popular places, and indeed some very good ones, but it was really a list of restaurants that have been pretty well documented, and are located in easy-to-find spots on major thoroughfares. That gave Sean Phipps, writing for Nooga.com, a hook for an amusing rebuttal, and so he put together a list of five actually hidden places in town that I enjoyed reading.

Around that time – late July – I was spending my days with the boychild, driving around and getting used to where everything is, and had been noticing, as I’ve mentioned here before, that this city is downright full of sandwich shops and delis. But I’d forgotten about the one that made Sean’s list. We had actually first spotted River Street Deli about four years ago, when our day trips to shop, eat, and play here brought us to that storefront that Pure Sodaworks used to have and we’d run around Coolidge Park for a while. I never knew it was anything other than just another sandwich shop until I read Sean’s story, though.

It’s not just the quality of the meats and cheeses here, or how darn much you get for your dollar. On my first visit, the owner, Bruce Weiss, noticed my old Urbanspoon T-shirt (man, I miss Urbanspoon) and struck up a conversation with me while making suggestions. Pro tip: ask him “what’s good here,” and let him navigate you through the day’s specials. Weiss seemed to spend a minute or two with everybody who passed through the line, which is a beautiful thing in any business, but especially important here, as the size of the crowd means that every interaction like this also helps with the crew backstage, giving them a few seconds’ lead time. My son and I watched and I marveled at how well the workflow was managed.

Last month, we took our son to the Creative Discovery Museum one weekend morning and caught the free shuttle across the river to eat here again. Weiss wasn’t working that day, and it was much slower than the crazy weekday rush. Marie had the French dip from that day’s specials, and I ordered a shrimp salad sandwich.

I like everything about this place. I loved the madhouse feel of that first visit and the more relaxed and laid-back second trip. The special that I had on that first visit – call it an Italian, it had all the requisite meats and dressing – was yummy, and the shrimp salad was absolutely wonderful. I may have had better shrimp salad exactly once, at the long-closed Nantucket Sandwich Shop in Alpharetta GA more than a decade ago. Depending on when you go, this may or may not be much of a getaway, but I love their vibe and their location. It may be hidden, but plenty of people have found it, for good reason.

River Street Deli
151 River St
Chattanooga, TN 37405

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