When you talk about deli sandwiches in the Triangle, you really don’t have a ton of good options. About all we’ve had in the past is Neal’s Deli out in Carrboro but that’s a bit out of the way for most of us. But now you can add one other option to the list, the new Lucky Delicatessen in downtown Durham! Brought to you by the team led by Chef Matt Kelly (Mateo, Mothers & Sons), this corner of W. Chapel Hill Street is slowly being taken over by his cluster of excellent dining choices. Open from 11am to 8pm every day but Sunday, I was able to slide in for a quick lunch recently and was really impressed.
Going into my visit, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. With a short menu offering up 6″ subs at $9.50 and 12″ for $18, I was actually pretty concerned. Prices seemed to reflect the downtown Durham premium pricing and seemed a bit high. But Chef Matt has delivered some really good concepts so I was hopeful! Out front, Lucky’s Delicatessen shows off its old-school roots with a retro neon sign, large pane glass windows and stool seating out front. Stepping inside I see a short line (a good sign) and plenty of staff behind the counter and up front. They’re all decked out in informal “uniforms”, white behind the counter, green t-shirts and darker colors in front and quite a few of the women have head-scarves tying their hair back, very cool! Stamped white metal ceiling along with red hanging lamps above make for a stylish scene. And then the menu overhead in black with press-on white letters along with the large refrigerated cases; it all says throwback and old-school in my book.
Ok, enough about the decor at Lucky’s Delicatessen cause it’s all about the food, amiright? And given Lucky’s short menu (7 hoagies, 12 sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and soups) it’s not hard to choose. I go with the pastrami sandwich ($12) which to me is a classic deli choice along with some kettle chips. Lucky’s offers up some other classics like matzoh ball soup, lox (smoked salmon) along with chopped liver. I grab my number and head over to the soda-pop case to grab a spicy Blenheims ginger ale for my lunch!
It takes about 10 – 15 minutes for my sandwich but when it shows up all I can think is that it was worth the wait. Thin, light rye bread wrapped around a thick, dense wall of pastrami and paired up with a tangy dill pickle, yum! Lucky Delicatessen’s pastrami is awesome, very tender with a bit of fat and a light spiced flavor. It may be some of the best pastrami I’ve ever had and while I could eat up the whole sandwich, I exhibit some rare self-control and bring half home with me. And I went home happy and full, there’s something to be said for a good deli sandwich paired with a great ginger ale, eh?
Leaving Lucky’s Delicatessen I was very pleasantly surprised. While the prices ARE a bit high, the portion size and quality of eats here more than makes up for the cost. And they’ve done a great job creating a refreshed version of an old school deli here in Durham. Chef Matt Kelly continues to impress with all his attention to detail and how well his restaurants are run. Given his rapidly expanding restaurant group and his success at running both the front and back of the house, I like to think of him as the Ashley Christensen of Durham which is high praise indeed. So if you’re a fan of deli sandwiches, make that trip out to downtown Durham and enjoy. I’m already trying to figure out what I’m going to eat at visit #2 to Lucky’s Delicatessen
105 W Chapel Hill Street
Durham, NC 27701
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