It’s lunchtime, mid-week, and Eating Companion are being dragged virtually by our ears into Hillview’s Southside Deli by a mutual friend who is truly shocked that we’ve never stepped foot in this New York-style deli. Our friend has been coming here “since elementary school” and claims to have his own sandwich, though I doubt very seriously anyone at Southside knows anything about our friend’s special sammy, as the place is busy with a handful of what seem like everyday locals, all with thick New York accents and a penchant for various salted meats and rye bread.
The space inside is simple and clean, lots of natural light, a handful of four-tops. There are a number of tables on the patio outside, as well, though on this early-January afternoon it is just too hot out front to deal. I don’t recognize the radio station being pumped in, but it’s head-clutchingly bad.
On top of the standard Boar’s Head sandwiches one expects, Southside does a number of specialty sandwiches like Philly cheesesteaks and gyros, as well as hamburgers, kosher hot dogs and -- most days -- a special hot sandwich. The sandwich breads are all baked in-house, while the hoagie rolls are done by the much-lauded Il Panificio. The deserts look just scrumptious — gelato, soft-serve ice cream from one of those old Taylor machines, eclairs and cakes and brownies dusted in confectioner’s sugar. A deli case of house-made packaged salads and a very nice selection of fine soft drinks like Dr. Brown’s and Olde Brooklyn runs parallel to the counter our friend is already bellying up to to give his order.
His sandwich comprises turkey pastrami (which I’ve only recently tried, strangely enough, and is delicious) on rye, lettuce, tomato, provolone and what is called Southside Sauce, which he claims is “tops” ($8). He also insists we order some French fries, which seem an odd choice at a deli, but we concede.
EC and I are a little overwhelmed and decide to just sort of wing it: a “New York Kosher Style” with pastrami on rye ($8), with lettuce, tomato, Swiss, and the recommended 1000-island dressing. I am, however, a little curious about this Southside Sauce. Our waitress informs us that it is, basically, mayo, spicy brown mustard and horseradish. This information seems to upset our friend a bit, who is mayophobic (a real term) and finds the stuff grotesque.
EC says we have to give the Cuban a try, for good measure, and also the blackened chicken gyro, which the waitress claims is very good. We grab some Olde Brooklyn cream sodas and root beers, as well as some waters served in styrofoam cups, and grab a table by the window.
The food is out in what seems like no time at all. The gyro looks like someone got a bit slaphappy with the shredded iceberg, a pile of it just pouring out of the pita, concealing whatever lies beneath it — delicious once you shovel most of it off, though. The pita is warm and dense, with a generous amount of sliced blackened chicken breast, and really mild tzatziki sauce.
Our friend is getting a bit pushy, making us try his sammy, which we admit is very good, sure, and yes the Southside Sauce is pretty killer, surely worthy of bracketing one’s mayophobia for a single meal. The fries, we agree, are great — thin, crispy, salted within an inch of their existence, delicious.
The Cuban is average, the mustard a little too tangy, the meat a little lukewarm. The Cuban bread is dense and crusty, pressed flat and a little hard to bite, but very good.
The New York Kosher Style is pretty much a perfect example of the sandwiches I’ve missed from NYC. It’s not as meat-intensive as, say, Katz’s, or Eisenberg’s on 5th ave., but it’s excellent, the rye bread still warm, really light and flimsy, though you have to sort of race to finish the thing before the sauces render the bread soggy and the whole sammy wilts around your hands, covering them in 1000-island and mustard.
One surprise is Southside's side of tabouli, which is heavier on the grain than the parsley and studded with briny Kalamata olives. The deli also churns out a variety on homemade soups every day, which seem popular with the lunchtime crowd that lines up out the door and at the drive-up window, thanks to the mass of people in the adjacent Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
It’s getting a little loud in here, but we’ve been staring too long at the deserts to leave without some sort of sweets. We go a little overboard, nabbing two small bowls of peanut and Donatella (some sort of hazelnut-chocolate decadence with massive icebergs of crunchy hunks of hard chocolate in it) gelatos and a brownie. Our friend keeps asking us how we feel about everything, saying “Isn’t it great? I knew you’d love this place!” but we’re too busy with the absolutely delicious, rich gelato, and he has powdered sugar all over his face so it's difficult to take him seriously.