Enjoy an easy picnic in the park with this German Village deli
Deal-conscious culture-vultures (isn't that all of us?) need look no further than the pay-what-you-want summertime plays staged in Schiller Park by Actors' Theatre of Columbus. To bolster such a sultry evening of low-cost entertainment, it's hard to beat toting along inexpensive, picnic-ready meals from nearby Brown Bag Delicatessen.
Unlike countless places around town that offer big sandwiches these days, Brown Bag — which is so close to Schiller Park you can practically hear those plays from its pleasant patio — charges less than $10 for all but one of its signature creations.
The long-beloved little deli is old school in more ways than cost. Past its vintage brick facade, wooden floors creak beneath heavy communal tables. Chalkboards announce daily specials. At the business end of the inevitable but fast-moving line are personable servers who take orders by leaning over a glass case packed with interesting salads ($3.75 for generous portions).
If you see the Smoked Potato Salad among this rotating roster, get it. Featuring hefty chunks of skin-on spuds, the cheese-dip-riffing concoction is addictive. I'm also partial to the garlicky Savory Kale Coleslaw, with its Caesar salad-like flavor and appealing textures of marinated greens, chickpeas, feta cheese, red onion and walnuts. If a sweeter salad is calling, choose the Cran-Bacon-Broccoli over the Power Quinoa.
Don't overlook the soups du jour ($3.75), though. I'd give a slight edge to the veggie-loaded, posole-style Pork Verde brimming with house-roasted shoulder meat. But the other soup I tried — creamy-and-tangy Chicken-Artichoke-Spinach, with tender poultry — was also terrific.
Diners can design sandwiches from a litany of high-grade ingredients. But with 16 pre-engineered winners that range from meaty constructions to the vegan T.L.C. — a hearty, Mediterranean-style assembly of house hummus, artichoke hearts, tapenade, roasted tomatoes, marinated cucumbers and toasted pumpernickel bread — I see no reason to play executive chef.
The Village Addiction evokes a marriage between two classics on griddled and buttery, sourdough bread: the Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich and a grilled cheese. Melted havarti and very respectable deli turkey are wedded in the presence of sweet cranberry-mayo, and their union is a happy one. Like all sandwiches mentioned in this review, it comes with a pickle spear and costs $9.25.
For a turkey sandwich that's more dynamic and less sweet, pick the excellent One on Ten — which tastes more like an eight-out-of-ten to me. You'll get grilled, oat-flecked nine-grain bread loaded with turkey, melted Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and house slaw. The huge result is “Reuben-esque” and Rubenesque.
The Cuban is also inspired by a classic. Although it lacks one key ingredient — roast pork — this arrangement of smoked ham, melted Swiss, mustard, mayo and sliced pickle spears on crisply grilled, dense ciabatta bread is nonetheless a solid meal.
The Spice of Life, which exhibits a “Dagwood sandwich” sensibility, similarly prevails despite a design flaw: a too-high bread-to-filling ratio. Still, the good-tasting combo of corned beef, roast beef, turkey, mustard, scallion cream cheese, tomato and onion on a toasted French roll is probably best recommended to folks who don't typically micromanage their food orders.
Leroy's Smokin' Sandwich — another winning spin on the Reuben — doesn't taste super smoky, but it fires up a desire to rip through it greedily. In fact this gathering of pastrami, smoked ham, melted smoked cheddar, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on crunchy grilled rye is so good, I plan on taking it with me to the last Shakespeare-in-the-park play of the summer: a politically charged version of “The Tempest.”
If you see me there, say, ‘Hi.' I'll be the guy giggling too loudly at the “drunk Caliban” scene and hogging all the smoked-potato salad.