When the foundation of your business is bread from Niedlov's Breadworks, you've already got a leg up.
But man - and restaurants - cannot live by bread alone, so the new Niedlov's Deli in St. Elmo needs to make sure the meats, cheeses and vegetables live up to the bread on which they lie.
Judging from a couple of lunches - which, along with sandwiches, also included soups and salads - Niedlov's is well aware of what's necessary.
Where: Niedlov's Deli, 3931 St. Elmo Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Price range: $7-$8 sandwiches and salads; $1.50-$3 for cups/bowls of soup.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Shapiro's Deli next to the Incline, Niedlov's has a functional interior - four booths and seven metal tables that seat anywhere from two to four. Nothin' fancy, but clean and bright.
Niedlov's only does lunch, serving from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays and, while not jammed to the rafters during two recent lunches, it was busy and bustling. Parking in the small lot out front might be an issue if it gets too busy, and they want you to pay if you sneak around back and park in the Incline's lot.
Along with seven sandwiches and four salads, Niedlov's offers a soup of the day. It's not an extensive batch of choices, but what you get is substantial.
The sandwiches are not wimpy little afternoon tea-party finger foods. They're not mountainous, either, but you won't leave feeling ripped off or hungry. Salads fill the plate, and the cups for soup are generous. And everything is homemade.
One lunch consisted of two cups of the soup of the day - homemade chicken noodle - and two sandwiches - a Reuben and a Green Thumb.
Considering the long history of the Reuben and its fairly regimented set of ingredients, it's surprising how often restaurants screw it up. Niedlov's, though, gets it right, although a tweak or two might improve it.
Starting with delicious Niedlov's rye bread, the deli adds grilled sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and corned beef that's salty and tangy with a hint of sweet. Very good. The only issue is that the sandwich could use a bit more moisture. Grilling tends to suck out water, so perhaps a bit more sauerkraut and Thousand Island could replace it.
The Green Thumb suffered a bit of dryness too, but that would be easily remedied by putting the olive tapenade on one slice of the stone-ground whole-wheat bread and the grilled portobello mushrooms on the other, instead of both on one side. Other than that, though, the sandwich was chock-full of fresh ingredients - mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, red onion, lettuce and tomato - and plenty of each.
The broth of the homemade chicken noodle soup was a tad greasy, but that just proves it was made from boiling a real chicken and not poured from a can. And it was started correctly with a nicely sweated mirepoix - onions, carrots and celery - to give it some heft and base. There were healthy pieces of white-meat chicken, and the big, meaty noodles were undoubtedly homemade with a delectable dumpling-esque chewiness to them.
At a second lunch, a roast beef sandwich was excellent on all counts. Plenty of red, juicy meat was combined with a tomato on one slice of sourdough bread and a righteously zesty smear of horseradish mayonnaise on the other, taking care of the moisture issue.
The I Can't Believe It's Vegetarian Chili was aptly named. Chunks of mushrooms replaced the meat, while tomatoes, onions, cheese and kidney beans filled out the rest. With a sprinkle of fresh cilantro and scallions on top, it was thick and tasty with a serious - and welcome - kick of heat at the end.
A chef's salad was a fresh heaping helping of a spring mix of lettuce, including arugula, radicchio and romaine, slivers of turkey, ham, Swiss and cheddar. The blue cheese dressing was truly homemade with small chunks of real cheese. It was a real stomach filler, not always the case with salad.
Orders are taken at the counter and delivered to your table. Service is quick, especially if they don't have to grill your sandwich. They will offer to bring your soup to the table before the sandwich, if you like.
Sandwiches are served in plastic mesh baskets - don't throw them away, please - while salads are served on large white plates and soups in porcelain cups and bowls. Real silverware also is provided. Drinks are self-serve.
The woman taking orders at the counter was cheerful and talkative and, even after only two visits, greets you with a "Hi, welcome back."
While the menu isn't extensive at this point, Niedlov's Deli has only been open for two months, so perhaps selections will be expanded in the future. Still, what's on it now is quite good and, if you're just in the mood for soup and sandwich or a salad, its choices are solid.
With St. Elmo continuinging a slow climb back to being a hip, desirable neighborhood, a good deli is a nice addition.
Contact Shawn Ryan at email@example.com or 423-757-6327.