Deli and sub sandwich fans are intensely passionate, even to the point where there are fierce rivalries around massive chains like Subway and Jimmy John’s. New York Delicatessen owner Isaac Work was once such a fan, driving regularly from Bridgeport to the Lakeview shop formerly known as NY Deli, which first opened back in 2005. His joy of sandwiches led him to a job working behind the counter and now ownership of the 2921 N. Clark Street deli.
Recently reopened with a slightly different name, Work has completely redone the interior and expanded the sandwich board. He’s in the midst of recapturing the old NY Deli crowd while trying to share his love of sandwiches with the rest of the city.
According to Work, the old NY Deli was an endearing dive, but assuming ownership meant updating to fit the increasingly upscale Lakeview surroundings. The interior definitely has a classic NY-style deli vibe with its checker tile floor and black and white theme. There’s a NY Subway sign and some nice city photographs, but it doesn’t feel too gimmicky, either. Likewise, the new shop is modern and little classy while remaining casual and not stuffy. Future plans right now for the deli include putting in a garage door opening at the front and adding an old school soda shop-style sign out front.
While a rather small shop, there’s seating for 26, including a nice elevated area near the front. During the week for lunch and dinner, the place is pretty calm and has somewhat of a chill coffee shop vibe, but it does get pretty packed during the weekend lunch crowd.
You’ll find Isaac Work behind the counter most days with one other employee, though he does staff up to five or six to accommodate the weekend rush. While the staff is small and working in a tight space, they work quickly and are able to prepare a surprisingly large menu.
Work is a very approachable, friendly guy and that’s one of the changes he’s tried to institute now that he’s in charge. This is definitely a place where you can get a sandwich or a coffee and stay and chat for awhile.
New York Delicatessen doubles a bit as a coffee shop with Lavazza espresso drinks and a Stumptown cold-pressed house blend that’s ice cold on tap. It’s never been roasted so has a very smooth, lighter taste that’s a little sweet and fruity. Besides coffee, there’s a selection of specialty sodas, teas, and they do have milkshakes too. Work is also in the process of solidifying a liquor license and already has the equipment ready. He plans to feature a rotating selection of three to four local Chicago beers on tap hopefully by the end of 2015.
In the morning, New York Delicatessen has New York Bagels and Glazed and Infused doughnuts until they run out. For lunch and dinner, they feature soups and salads, but the real draw here is the substantial list of hot and cold sandwiches. While a sandwich or two does remain from the old NY Deli, Work has changed up the ingredients or added his own ingredients. With the exception of the corned beef prepared in house, he currently uses Boar’s Head meat and bread from D’Amato Bakery. I got to try a few of the sandwiches, which are all available in half sizes if you want a cup of soup or salad on the side.
This turkey and pastrami navel hot sandwich has a bit of oomph thanks to the pepper jack cheese and sharp mustard. This is a really well balanced sandwich where you can taste all the ingredients, and they all complement each other. The D’Amato bread is also excellent. There’s a satisfying crunch when you bite in, but the rest is soft and fluffy.
Corned beef is definitely polarizing, but if you’re down with the beef you are going to love the New Yorker. It’s paired with pastrami navel, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and some coleslaw. There’s a lot of juicy, tender beef that has a bold flavor balanced out by the cool, creamy crunch of the coleslaw and just a bit of sweetness from the dressing.
There are a couple of vegetarian sandwiches on the menu, including the cold Artichoke. The artichoke rests atop red peppers and big slices of fresh mozzarella that’s all drizzled lightly with oil and vinegar with a bit of basil. This is a light and very refreshing sandwich with lots of flavor that even meat lovers would enjoy.
The Italian sub is a mainstay of nearly every sandwich shop. While I’m not personally as intoxicated by the classic sandwich as some, the New York Delicatessen version is definitely preferable to what you’d find at Jimmy John’s and the like. This Italian is loaded with a mix of meats, provolone, lots of veggies, and some pesto to give it a lot of flavor. There’s also a spicy version on the menu.
Sandwich fans across Chicago will definitely want to plan a trip up to Lakeview and neighborhood locals will definitely like having an accessible spot for Glazed and Infused doughnuts in the morning (the closest G&I location is a couple miles south in Lincoln Park). Taking over a longtime neighborhood haunt is tough task, but Isaac Work definitely seems to have the palette and the ambition to make New York Delicatessen succeed.
New York Delicatessen
2921 N Clark St, Chicago, IL