Becoming a Regular

Bob's Deli represents all that is good about mom-and-pop dining

Bob's Deli is the pure definition of a mom-and-pop place: The owners are the sole employees, doing everything from cooking the food to taking orders to serving to cashiering. All the other things that make up a mom-and-pop joint are there as well--a regular group of regulars, homemade food and limited hours (Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). But these are good things, and they add up to a nice place to grab a quick, tasty lunch.

The décor at Bob's is totally deli--sports posters hanging on the walls (in this case, posters of the Wildcat basketball team and others of several Chicago teams, hometown of the owners who have run Bob's Deli for more than 20 years); tables are small; and there is a pile of magazines for your reading pleasure, everything from women's magazines to golf stuff.

My first visit was on the day the owners had returned from a week off. The regulars--and I think I was the only one there who wasn't a regular--were thrilled to have the place open again, and the owners seemed thrilled to be back: always a good sign. The place wasn't busy--I guess most people didn't know Bob was back.

I was overwhelmed a bit by the menu. The expression "just like mom used to make" is often used to describe the food at a place like Bob's, but I know my mom never offered seven types of bread (including a low-carb choice), six types of cheese and two soups plus chili every day. That Bob's was once also a butcher shop is evident in the variety of meats available. Twenty-plus sandwiches are on the menu, including the usuals plus Braunsweiger and hard salami, not usually found at other "delis." There's also the Chicago specialty--a Vienna All Beef Hot Dog--an assortment of fresh salads, and daily lunch specials (on Fridays you can choose between "Hot" Italian sausage or tuna salad). Add the new addition--panini, grilled sandwiches--and you've got yourself a menu!

I was torn between the Reuben and an Italian beef, both longtime favorites of mine. I opted for the lunch special--a half sandwich (I chose the Reuben) with a cup of soup (chicken gumbo) and a drink, $5.59 plus a 45-cent adjustment for the Reuben, making a grand total of $6.04.

I didn't have to wait long--there wasn't even time to finish the article about John F. Kennedy Jr. and wife, Caroline, in a recent women's mag I'd grabbed. My gumbo was spicy and flavorful, although a bit more chicken would've been nice. My sandwich, in spite of the fact that it had been heated up in a microwave (the marble rye was toasted) was delicious. The pastrami was tender, without a trace of fat and--unlike a lot of places--was not drenched in sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. I also grabbed a piece of the cherry pie ($1.59); it looked too good to resist. It was definitely a homemade pie--it reminded me of the pie a friend's grandma used to make ... full of fruit, a tender crust and not too sweet.

John and I returned the next day, and the owners remembered me--maybe I'm becoming a regular. This time, the place was pretty full, and plenty of people were coming in just to pick up their lunches. The crowd was a mixed bunch: university types discussing insect infestations, a trio from a local radio station, some working guys and a few office workers from nearby places.

John ordered the Italian sub ($5.09); I went with a half Italian beef sandwich, a cup of Boston clam chowder ($5.59) and the Caesar salad ($4.99). Again, the wait wasn't long.

John's sandwich was piled high with ham, salami, provolone, lettuce, tomato (hold the onions) and topped with the house Italian dressing and mustard. I thought the mustard was a weird condiment to put on this sandwich, but it worked well. The sandwich was great, according to John, a sandwich man from way back. My Italian beef was tender and juicy; the menu proclaims that the beef is homemade. I love this sandwich, and Bob's version could stand up to any I've had in Italian joints back home. (Again, the microwave heating didn't seem to affect the flavor or texture of this sandwich.) My Caesar was very good: plenty of fresh romaine lettuce sprinkled with Parmesan, and, thankfully, served with both croutons and dressing on the side. There was no chance of this salad getting soggy had I ordered it to go. The chowder was also quite good: thick, creamy and clammy.

Bob's also does catering. With a day's notice, you can order party platters of meats and cheeses, sandwich trays (subs by the foot) or brown bag lunches. Check out for your choices.

I live near Bob's and have driven past the place--a nondescript strip mall on busy Campbell Avenue--a million times. That will no longer be the case.

Bob's is the answer to the age-old question, "Where shall we go for lunch?" The service is quick and friendly, the place is sparkly clean and the food is good, fresh and reasonably priced. My only wish is that Bob's was open for dinner to provide an answer for that other age old question, "Where shall we go for dinner?"

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