Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Johnnie’s Deli

1840 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio

by Beau Cadiyo

It has been a while. I apologize for that. First, both Ed and D. John have moved out of Cleveland. Second, we all finished law school, and now I’m preparing for the bar. Third, though, is the kicker – I’ve had tons of sandwiches over the last few months. Tons. I’ve just been uninspired. Whenever I sit down to write a review I turn up blank. I’ll keep at them, and turn something out, but I’ve just been disappointed in most of the sandwiches I’ve eaten over the last two months.
Until today.
At the lunch hour, Frank Khan and I made our way to a café we’d stopped in a couple of weeks earlier. I hadn’t gotten a good look at it before, but I remembered that the breakfast waitress was friendly in a gruff way, and promised a breakfast in two minutes, a burger in “maybe five.” Frank stayed and ordered and I went around the corner.
This time, the waiter was a short middle-eastern man. He was friendly, too, in a business-like way – it was refreshing to have him treat us as normal people rather than try to kiss our asses for tips. The menu was plain, but in this day and age that made it extraordinary: regular sandwiches, fried sandwiches, sides, breakfast until 11 a.m. Turkey, Pastrami, Tuna, Chicken. The specials were on a small white board which, from many parts of the restaurant, was inaccessible without standing up and walking around; he made no effort to tell us what was on it, another endearing factor.
There were four other bar students around the counter, along with a man in a short-sleeve shirt and tie who looked haggard. I imagined his life as a tired, spent public defender who made his living defending petty criminals and getting beaten up by the prosecutors. He still found the heart to joke with our host, and I liked him for it.
My tuna melt came, along with the curly fries. Note this: there are no frills on these sandwiches. Two pieces of rye, two slices of American cheese, and between them two massive, generous, ice-cream-scoops of tuna and egg salad. No tomato. No lettuce. No special sauce. These things cost extra, and while it was annoying, I was in a good mood and liked it all. I marveled at the sandwich, ate the pickle and then bit in, squeezing more than half of the tuna out as I did so. The bread was well-fried and not too soft, the cheese was barely noticeable, the tuna/egg combination divine in its middle-American blandness. Here was a sandwich which did not have to put on airs, did not have to dress up for company, was not competing with anyone else for awards, and so, Taoist, excelled and defeated them all. The curly fries were well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside, perfect with the off-brand ketchup in the red bottles. Hot sauce would have been appreciated, but I suspected it may have cost extra.
They had just gotten a credit card machine the day before and he did not know how to use it. When I returned to my seat after paying, our host had filled my water glass, anticipating that I would stick around and talk for a while. I did, and in so doing discovered that I wanted to write again - first and foremost about Johnnie’s, one of the great delis in Cleveland. We’ll see if I’m inspired to get into the others.

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