There are things that I never thought I’d miss moving out of New York, and when I do, it hits me like a ton of bricks. Like delis. It can be my neighborhood deli or even the one at my local supermarket. But most of all, it’s the Bay Deli in Huntington with their signature sandwiches that I crave the most. I miss the smell of grease from the bacon, egg and cheese on a roll for breakfast. I used to line up with all the locals who enjoyed starting their day on this mainstay that packed in our daily allotment of cholesterol in one mouthwatering meal. I really haven’t eaten one of those high calorie, rich-in-fat delicacies since my early 20s, but I still miss it nonetheless.
The thought of getting a sandwich day or night at the Bay Deli makes me long for the summer days of my youth, where stopping in before hitting the beach was another ritual I miss. Just thinking of the Bay Deli Special – ham, swiss, salami, oil & vinegar, salt & pepper or their roast beef topped with sweet coleslaw on a roll can lift my spirits and make my stomach grumble. Those were the sandwiches that made my taste buds come alive. I loved that deli, worshipped it even, and my mouth just waters thinking about that place. It has been a mainstay in Huntington long before I discovered the local haunt and it is still thriving, finding new, loyal customers every day. I can buy the all the sliced meats and cheeses I want at my supermarket, but my sandwiches never quite taste the same and never feel like I put together something as spectacular as those Bay Deli concoctions.
Going to the deli at your local supermarket should be one of the joys of food shopping. After all, it is the only department at the store where you get to see what you are buying, request how thick your want the slices and you get to eat for free! If you are supermarket savvy, you can get a whole meal out of trying the specials of the week and it will provide you the valuable nourishment required to get through the remainder of the shopping trip. However, at my local Harris Teeter Supermarket, it is best to bring a newspaper with you, as you will be waiting for a while. Even if the store is empty, you will still wait. I can see a good 15 people busy behind the counter doing something, not sure what, but it isn’t helping me. There should be one of those “Average Wait Time” signs like at Disney so you can decide if prepackaged Oscar Meyer meats are the way to go. I know I am one of those people who doesn’t do well idling. Here in North Carolina, people happily wait their turn in line. There seems to be no pressure whatsoever for the deli clerks to speed it up, and even if the line starts to wrap around the hard cheese section, there’s still no rush to move a little faster. I don’t think “Worth the Wait” is Boars Head’s motto as the meats will go bad by the time I get to the front of the line.
To add insult to injury, for the past 7 weeks, when I go to the deli counter I am always assigned the trainee ‘Sorry Ma’am (yes, I am now a ma’am) it’s my first week’. I smile politely and know that this is not how I envisaged this deli run. I look at my watch, sigh and know this is going to be a while. Even though I really don’t have to rush, I am hard wired, and it is in my New York DNA to feel a sense of urgency with everything that I do. As an experiment to see if I could get out of there faster, I wrote out what I wanted, handed it to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, just to see if I could increase my odds of getting to the rest of the store. The nice man who took my order disappeared. Not only was he training, he also injured himself with my order. I contemplated panning the whole thing yet, I stood there waiting until 3 other people were served and opened my mouth. Thankfully they started over. And, really all I wanted was ½ pound of yellow cheddar.
Over the summer, my son and I picked up a few heroes at the same Harris Teeter deli counter, at a dedicated hot/cold sandwich bar, to bring to the pool. I was thrilled that I didn’t have to train myself to call the hero a Hoagie, Sub, Grinder or Foot Long. My son decided to order a chicken cutlet with marinara and cheese (AKA Chicken Parmesan). ‘A what?” the young kid behind the counter asked. “Chicken Cutlet Hero with Marinara sauce and cheese” my son repeated with authority. “What is a cutlet?” he asked. I had to point to the sign above his head and read the description. “Oh, we call that Breaded Chicken”. When he started spooning the sauce with the meatballs, I informed him as nicely as I could that Marinara has no meat in it. My former next door neighbor and friend for 12 years, a wonderful Italian cook educated me about the difference of Marinara (“Ma-Da-Na” pronounced with an Italian Accent) and Sunday Sauce (Meat Sauce). I used to smell the aroma coming from her kitchen as it wafted through my windows and I could literally taste it, willing an invitation. “Wha?” again. I think he thought I was speaking another language and was getting the customer from hell, or both! I really felt like I was in another country at that moment. I tried not to give the kid a hard time and attempted to educate him on the merits of meat vs. no meat sauce with breaded chicken. I increasingly became more agitated which further embarrassed my 10 year old, who at that point wanted nothing to do with me, or the damn sandwich. “Mom, let’s just get out of here” he said with clenched teeth, pulling on my arm, begging for a quick exit.
I try not to get discouraged, as I have yet to find anything quite like the Bay Deli or even the deli counter at the King Kullen I frequented in New York. I even miss the guys behind the counter who recognized me, knew how thin to slice the meat without having me ‘approve’ and taste the sample (unless I was hungry), and knew how to move the order along. The little things like the familiar faces at the counter that are really so inconsequential in daily life, now have me hankering for my former deli life.
Recently though, I have found a few sandwich shops in the neighborhood that incorporate some unique farm fresh ingredients that have whet my whistle and am enjoying this food exploration. These places have become the new standard for me, raising the bar for sandwich eateries in North Carolina and for my ever changing tastes. However, if I could just sink my teeth into a Bay Deli Special right now, I would be one happy lady.