I have sort of an unwritten checklist when it comes to downtown lunch spots.
So when I visited the Downtown Deli and Marketplace inside Cottage Flowers at Barr and East Wayne streets, I started stacking it up against all of the other places around downtown as soon as I walked in.
Affordable – check.
Convenient with ample parking – check.
A place you can relax and truly get away from work – check.
But the most important things are the food and the speed and quality of the service. And, yes, Downtown Deli got those items checked off, too.
Simple deli sandwiches, side salads and soups are standard fare there, but it also has an enticing little salad bar with some out-of-the-ordinary items and offers hot specials daily.
Many of the ingredients come from the Health Food Shoppe on North Anthony Boulevard, which Downtown Deli was affiliated with when it first opened a little more than a year ago. Although it is now independently owned, the relationship between the two is still solid.
The place also offers breads made by local baking master Chuck Kaiser, who also bakes for Honey on the Table. And if you come on the right day, at the right time, when they aren’t sold out, Kaiser’s cookies may also be available.
The best thing I had during my visits was one of those daily hot specials – the vegetarian enchiladas. These beauties were stuffed with goat cheese and enrobed in a velvety white sauce made from goat milk. The sauce had a wonderful peppery – but not too hot – essence from chiles that were used in it. It was flanked with a hearty portion of refried black beans, which blew away normal refried beans, and red rice. It is a regular part of the specials rotation that is worth scheduling a trip for.
The build-your-own sandwiches were lifted by Kaiser’s bread, but, like the cookies, it isn’t always in stock. The light rye I had on my ham and turkey sandwich wasn’t his but was fresh and enjoyable. Both meats were of good quality – carved slices, not processed lunch meat – and the array of toppings was topnotch. I loved the great romaine and fresh greens blend, which was also on the salad bar, and the sweet bread and butter pickles and hummus from the Health Food Shoppe. I also found the roast beef for sandwiches to be of good quality – a little pink and rare, moist and flavorful.
But the best thing about the sandwich lineup was the variety of combinations. There were whole and half sandwich combos, which included drinks or soups, side salads, the salad bar and bags of chips.
The soups and sides were fantastic, especially the quinoa salad, which was chock full of feta cheese, roasted red peppers, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, onions and spinach. The best soup was the vegan split-pea, which was one of the lightest and most flavorful I have ever had. It had bits of carrot and a nice amount of black pepper.
The white chicken chili was more like chicken soup with its thin broth, but it, too, was tasty with white beans, celery, onion and slightly spicy pepper flavor. The Italian lentil was comforting with the vegetable soup standards of carrot, tomatoes, peas and green beans.
The folks at Downtown Deli were attentive and got my food whipped up fast after I ordered at the counter. They were happy to bring food to the table, so I didn’t have to stand and wait, and they checked back on my party regularly.
The space inside Cottage Flowers is beautiful with a nifty trellis up front, ice cream parlor tables and chairs, fresh roses on each of those tables and a koi pond off to the side.
The only drawbacks were minor. The deli was out of white bread during one visit, which is the last bread you want to run out of, and were out of sweetener for tea, which would make it tough on someone watching their sugar given there are no diet sodas.
Restaurant: Downtown Deli and Marketplace
Address: 236 E. Wayne St.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Enchiladas ($7.95), sandwich combos (from $5.50 to $8.95), cookies (75 cents)
Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).