Pastrami on rye with a kosher pickle on the side. A common order at delicatessens around the country. A lot of sandwich joints and markets call themselves delis, but to true delicatessen aficionados, a deli is only a deli if it’s a Jewish deli. That’s understandable, as delis became popular during the 19th century with Jewish immigrants. While a delicatessen is a store that sells cold cuts, cheese, salads, and unusual foods, Jewish delis have a certain je ne sais quoi. So, while some sandwich joints may call themselves delis, they’re really more of a sandwich market. With that said, here’s a look at a few of my favorite delis and markets around the Midwest.
1. Starboard Market
Clear Lake, Iowa
A seasonal market, open from March until after Labor Day, I fell in love with its caprese salad (tomato, cucumber, and onion slices with chunks of mozzarella cheese swimming in an Italian dressing) the first time I ate at Starboard Market. The salad is just one of the delicious deli-type items on the menu here. Starboard Market, open for more than 20 years, posts its menu and specials on the giant chalkboard behind the counter. The Starboardsandwich is the premier item, consisting of pastrami, Swiss cheese, ham, salami, green pepper, tomato, lettuce, and homemade garlic spread on pumpernickel rye. Your mouth will water just looking at the menu. The eatery doesn’t just stop at a few sandwiches. You’ll have your pick of more than 20 sandwiches to ensure you leave full and satisfied. Along with homemade soup and more salads, it’s easy to understand why it’s the top restaurant in Clear Lake (and made fellow TravelAwaits writer Sara Broer’s article Why Clear Lake, Iowa Is Worth A Visit), despite not being open daily.
Pro Tip: With picturesque Clear Lake a couple blocks away, you may want to take your order to go and enjoy eating in the park as you watch sailboats, speed boats, even a paddle boat float by.
2. Tenuta’s Deli
Tenuta’s Deli, Grocery and Liquor Store is an Italian deli and grocery that has created amazing dishes for more than seven decades. The Kenosha staple entices you with freshly grilled sausage and peppers during warm weather months. Order freshly carved meat and cheeses for home, including prosciutto, as well as handmade salads, such as tortellini salad. I’m hooked on olives. My eldest daughter even ordered a box of single-serving olives for a road trip she and I took. Tenuta’s challenged my affection for the salty treats, with a large variety of olives. You can find almost anything to enjoy at Tenuta’s, so come prepared to dine on the sausages and peppers, and go home with a ton of meats and cheeses.
Editor’s Note: Hungry and planning time in Kenosha? These are the nine best foodie experiences in Kenosha, Wisconsin (and yes, Tenuta’s makes the list!).
3. Swartz’s Delicatessen
Located in Omaha’s Countryside Village, Swartz’s Delicatessen serves an authentic deli menu, including a pastrami and turkey sandwich, or you may want to go with the pastrami with chopped chicken liver. I’m a corned beef fan, so I always tend to order pastrami and corned beef with Swiss cheese on rye, with a slather of mustard. I am also a pickle fanatic, so I love having a sliced pickle as a side. Swartz’s menu also features matzo ball soup, chicken and rice soup, and a few salads, such as a Cobb salad, tuna salad, and chopped lettuce salad. The deli also serves breakfast, featuring bagels, latkes, and breakfast plates including a Western omelet.
4. Paolucci’s Restaurant, Deli And Lounge
Paolucci’s dates back to the mid-1890s when Felix and Dominic Paolucci immigrated to the United States from Italy and settled in Atchison. Starting with a grocery store, the family business eventually evolved into a restaurant, which today is known as Paolucci’s Restaurant, Deli and Lounge. The third generation eatery added a deli menu to the restaurant, serving sandwiches, such as the Big Mike, with pastrami, ham, and salami with provolone cheese on Italian bread with Italian dressing. If you enjoy a spicy bite, check out the Kickin’ Roast Beef, with spicy peppers, horseradish sauce, and pepperoncinis.
In the heart of Skokie, Kaufman’s deli has been a Chicagoland classic for more than 60 years. When ordering a sandwich, you’ll be challenged because everything is amazing here. Corned beef, my favorite, is always a safe bet. But, you can also enjoy the brisket, lox, turkey, and pastrami. Grab a homemade side, including coleslaw, four-bean, kasha, and varnishkas, or a bowl of chicken, lentil, or cream of broccoli soup. The deli still makes its own knishes and kreplach.
Pro Tip: When visiting Chicago, you must visit the Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean.
6. State Street Deli
Mason City, Iowa
With sandwiches named after Chicago streets at State Street Deli, you may think you’re in the Windy City instead of North Iowa. Featuring hot and cold sandwiches, a family favorite is the Michigan Avenue, a hot sandwich with smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar, and Swiss cheese, along with a chipotle raspberry mayo on peppered toasted sourdough bread. When I’m in the mood for a cold sandwich, I tend to go basic with the ham and Swiss cheese on sourdough. I do enjoy adding a cup of soup, such as chicken noodle or the daily special.
Pro Tip: While visiting Mason City, take a tour of the Historic Park Inn, the lone remaining hotel in the world designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Sara Broers can be your guide with her article Architecture And Art In Mason City, Iowa: 9 Things To See.
7. Sikora’s Polish Market And Deli
Located in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis, Sikora’s Polish Market and Deli is a throwback to the days when immigrants arrived in the Midwest from Eastern Europe. Here, you’ll find pierogis (Polish dumplings), along with a variety of sausages and hams, as well as liver pate and head cheese. Along with grocery items, such as fish salad, you have a nice selection of goods. The neat thing about shopping here is you can take the food home or to your hotel or vacation rental to prepare. You’ll definitely get a true European vibe visiting Sikora’s.
8. Eleven City Diner
Popular with locals and visitors, Eleven City Diner -- considered Chicago’s best deli by many -- is a hop, skip, and jump from Soldier Field and attractions such as Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Field Museum. Maintaining an old-fashioned casual diner experience, the restaurant’s deli menu includes standards such as corned beef and pastrami while also adding an albacore tuna salad and grilled cheese. The diner also offers a vegetarian and vegan menu and serves breakfast.
9. Scotty’s Deli And Catering
Grand Forks, North Dakota
A family-owned eatery, Scotty’s Deli and Catering is more of a market than deli. With a menu featuring lavosh flatbreads topped with tasty ingredients such as Canadian bacon, pepperoni, and Italian sausage. You can even order a taco lavosh, with all the spicy goodness of a chicken or beef taco. Scotty’s also features a sandwich menu starring a Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese on rye bread, as well as a walleye sub, a North Dakota treat. You can also enjoy a salad or bowl of hot soup.
Pro Tip: Consider taking your order to go and dining along the Red River trail near downtown Grand Forks. After that, consider my tips for the best things to see and do in unique Grand Forks, North Dakota.
10. Village Corner Deli
Branding itself a New York-style deli, the Village Corner Deli in Davenport ranks among the most popular eateries in the Quad Cities. Open for about 15 years, the deli strives to deliver high-quality meats like you would find in a New York deli, so they use only fresh, unprocessed meats, such as corned beef, smoked turkey, and pastrami. With more than 20 to choose from, the sandwiches are thick, with the meat, cheese, and accessories piled high. While you’ll find deli standards such as corned beef and roast beef, check out the menu for specialties, such as the Don Correleone, with Genoa salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, hot capicola, and mozzarella on sourdough. It’s a sandwich to which you may have issues saying no. The Iowan is another local favorite that includes honey ham, roast beef, bacon, and cheddar cheese on hearty rye bread. The deli also offers homemade soups, such as chili, buffalo chicken, and ham and bacon. You can also order salads.
11. Manny’s Coffee Shop And Deli
A Chicago stalwart for almost 80 years, Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli invites you to try breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You could spend an entire day at your table, starting with lox and bagel or corned beef hash and eggs in the morning, a hot cup of coffee, and friendly conversation as the owner visits each table. Then, for lunch and dinner, consider the classic Reuben with your choice of corned beef, pastrami, turkey pastrami, or roasted turkey, as well as the Chazzer, with corned beef and pastrami piled high with coleslaw, muenster cheese, and 1000 Island dressing on rye. Other sandwich favorites include beef brisket, hard salami, and chopped liver. Consider ordering a side of soup, choosing from matzo ball, kreplach, sweet and sour cabbage, and rice.