2805 Proctor Road, Sarasota
922-1221 or sarasotadeli.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.
I've eaten many a breakfast sandwich in my day, but I've never come across one quite like M&M Deli's Hungarian version ($3.99). It has eggs, sure, but they've been hard-boiled and sliced, not fried. And it has salty pork, but rather than bacon, the sandwich features thin discs of Pick, a dry Hungarian salami. M&M then layers those ingredients on both halves of a sliced Kaiser roll and dots the sunshine-colored yolks of the eggs with what it calls a "paprika cream." That substance is less creamy than chunky, with a texture almost like preserves, and while it's billed as "mild" on the menu, it packs a wallop.
As a wake-me-up, this thing works. The rich fat of the cured pork mixes well with the unfussy egg, and that paprika spread lends fire. The roll doesn't amaze, but it's toasted to a crisp on the outside and soft and doughy inside. Overall, a tasty package.
Which goes for much else at M&M Deli, a surprisingly roomy specialty store and breakfast/lunch spot in the L-shaped strip mall on the northeast corner of Proctor and Swift. The ambiance here is decidedly Central and Eastern Europe, with Polish beers chilling in the fridge, Ukrainian borscht on the menu and copies of the Magyar-language newspaper Népszava Szabadság resting by the cash register up front. While the staff and customers speak flawless English to me, when they're chatting among themselves, I can't understand a word.
That description admittedly doesn't capture everything M&M offers. The restaurant's list of hot sandwiches includes American standbys like Reubens, clubs and more, and its coffee counter serves Italian-style espresso-based drinks. But you don't come to a place like M&M to eat a sandwich with a chicken breast and ranch on it — you come for specialties like that Hungarian breakfast.
Or for their pierogies, which you can order as part of a lunch combo for $7.49, or solo for $4. A platter of six comes out looking awfully pale, usually not a good sign. But M&M's are tasty, with a nicely textured dough wrapped around whichever filling you select: potato and cheese, "meat" or sauerkraut and mushroom. The potato pierogies are soft and rich, while the meat filling — chicken? — is shredded and flaky. Both are a touch on the bland side, but it's nothing a shake of salt can't fix, and they come with plastic ramekins filled with sour cream and diced onions that have been sautéed low and slow till they're golden brown and packed with flavor.
Like gnocchi, pierogies are deceptively filling. A platter of six leaves me reeling. Perhaps that half-liter bottle of Tatra that a customer talked me into trying isn't helping. But I'm not complaining.
M&M's Hungarian chicken paprikash ($7.49) features thighs delicately simmered in a paprika-based sauce till the meat slides off the bone. Again, a bit flavorless, but a touch of salt helps. I'm promised "noodles" on the side, but they're not like any noodles I've had. They're more like twisty little knobs of dough that have been boiled like pasta. They're sticky and starchy, and make for a great tool with which to sop up the leftover paprikash sauce.
For a rich dessert, try the Dobos tort ($3.50), a seven-layered cake given crunch by toasted almonds and a sublime caramel crust on top. A forkful of that followed by a sip of strong coffee will leave you thinking you're relaxing in a café in Budapest rather than an American strip mall. And you don't even need a passport.