After a recent trip to the meat mecca that is Philadelphia, we noticed once again that the damp subs served in East Tennessee delis have little in common with the towering beef stacks served at the likes of Philly’s Famous 4th Street Deli.
This made us curious about regional differences in what people consider a deli, so we did a motherlode of research using data from online review sites as well as health inspections and business licensing in more than a dozen states.
1. A deli is any place you can buy prepared food.
2. Delis are the original fast casual restaurants.
3. No two people would call any one deli the same thing.
4. Language gets in the way of lunch.
We’ve put together a humble sampling of the range of venues called delis in the hope of opening minds, once again, to the grandeur of dining diversity we enjoy as Americans. Help yourself to condiments, enjoy, and as always, call us if you need a slicer or a get-and-go case. (Have we got deals!)
Madison, WI Gino’s Italian Deli specializes in lasagna. The ham and swiss is supposed to be good, too, albeit decidedly not kosher.
New York, NY
Tourists seeking an authentic kosher/kosher-style/Jewish/New York deli experience and perfectly polite orgasm humor flock to Katz’s Delicatessen.
Search for a deli here and you’re likely to find a Banh Mi shop. Enjoy lunch at Subway, middle America!
Los Angeles, CA
Residents seeking an authentic kosher/kosher-style/Jewish deli experience, and food writers, flock here.
Salt Lake City, UT
Diners at the “deli” known as Liberty Heights Fresh shop and dine from a selection worthy of Seattle’s Pike’s Peak Market–including a matterhorn of exquisite imported and domestic cheeses.
Ft. Worth, TX
The deli landscape here is like a prairie pasture, where 90 percent of the grazing herd is a McAllister’s or a Jason’s, punctuated by a Vietnamese or sushi joint here and there.
Sioux Falls, SD
A middle Eastern cafe, a fried-chicken joint, and several Firehouse Subs shops come up when you search for “delis” in SoDak. Look deeper, though, and you’ll find Pomegranate Market, “a locally owned and operated natural organic full-service grocery store that carries products from 50 local vendors” including a wide variety of special-diet foods. Who knew?
Knoxville, TN Maybe it’s the famously misty microclimate of the Great Smoky Mountains—who knows? “Deli” here equals ham or turkey and mild cheese on a long brown or white bun, often steamed till you can practically drink it.
New Orleans, LA
Cochon Butcher, a butcher shop and wine bar that sells sandwiches, is part of a small but intense artisanal movement to bring back the best of old-world meat markets. They advertise housemade meats, terrines, and sausages. “Fresh cuts:” not a term you see often anymore, but a welcome one.
Swift Run Gap, VA
Pretty place. And they’ve got your ham, all right: country ham, that is.
They closed the incomparable Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in 2008 and nothing, it seems, will ever be the same.
St. Louis, MO
A barbecue mecca, this town has an astounding variety of meat shops—er, delis.
The hoagie is just the tip of the iceberg in Philadelphia. Famous 4th Street Delicatessen—that’s its full name—abounds with house specialties for carryout and eat-in alike, such as brick-solid yet sumptuous refrigerator cakes. Even the smoked fish beneath them in the deli case (left) gawk, open-mouthed, at the sight of those cakes.