Updated: Oct. 21, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.
When I moved away from New Jersey, I knew I would miss the sweet smell of Newark zipping by on I-95, water bagels piled high with Taylor Ham and my loud-mouthed Long-Island-transplant neighbors.
But the hardest thing to leave behind from the tri-state area? The delis.
Few talk, or tawk, about the bond one has with their local delicatessen, but I will try to explain it to those unfortunate souls raised outside of best-damn-pizza territory.
“Your” deli is where you hustled for lunch in high school. It is probably family owned, and that family is probably loud, kind to regulars and all about the sawse. You may get cream cheese and lox smeared with love. You may get a Reuben stacked on warm rye bread. You may split an Italian combo with extra hot peppers down at the shore or out on the island. Your deli is reliably delicious, reasonably priced and the real reason you go home for Thanksgiving.
So after an $8 bacon-egg-and-cheese incident at Whole Foods and a mediocre chicken cutlet at the GW Deli, I was on a mission to cure my hearty sandwich homesickness.
For the food: Loeb’s NY Deli 1712 I St. NW
Closest station: Farragut West
Any place with “NY” in the name makes me skeptical, and with sandwiches dubbed the Statue of Liberty (chicken salad, bacon, lettuce and tomato on rye) and Times Square (pastrami, fried egg, American cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on an onion roll), I was especially hesitant. But Loeb’s surpassed my expectations: The staff were congenial, the specials were hand-scribbled on whiteboards and my fellow customer was a balding man in a tracksuit.
The Little Italy I ordered was spot-on. The capicola, genoa, mortadella, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot sauce and Italian dressing were perfectly soggy and spicy on a large sub roll. The only downside was the $10 price tag, and next time I would order it sans tomatoes.
Besides a healthy selection of sandwiches for $9 to $11, Loeb’s offers some Jewish specialities that are harder to come by in Foggy Bottom: homemade kugel (baked pudding casserole with egg noodles) for $4.30, baked potato knish for $3.30 and cold borscht (chilled beet soup) with sour cream for $4.30. But I would go back for the New Yorker breakfast: thick-cut challah french toast for $5.30.
For the price: West Wing Cafe 1120 20th St. NW
Closest station: Farragut North
West Wing is tucked away in Lafayette Center about 15 minutes from campus by foot. The spacious deli is a busy lunch spot for office workers in the area, but if you can beat the rush, West Wing is a solid spot to grab a hearty lunch without spending more than $8.
An employee told me a popular choice is the Cabbie: smoked turkey, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and red onion on the bread of your choice. But I opted for a toasted Reuben: hot corned beef with melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut on crispy rye bread. The sandwich was not huge, but it was filling and cost only $7.
The cafe has an extensive sandwich menu as well as a dozen salad options, fruit smoothies, yogurt parfaits and three vegetarian subs. The soups of the day were chicken noodle and chili, and they smelled delicious even at closing time. Cups are $2.50 and bowls are $4.50.
West Wing is ambiguous as far as delis go – it is neither strictly Italian, Jewish nor Greek – but it does a little bit of everything for a fair price and plenty of sandwich between the bread.
For the vibe: DGS Delicatessen 1317 Connecticut Ave. NW
Closest station: Dupont Circle
Despite the name, DGS is not actually a deli. It is a restaurant, sandwich shop and bar with pristine white-tiled floors and two stories of seating. Its ultra-modern aesthetic and high prices were not exactly what I had in mind, but I gave the happy-hour hotspot a try because a whitefish salad bagel with fried capers sounded too good to pass up.
The $10 sandwich was as satisfying as it sounded: tomato jam and radish topped a Montreal bagel that rivaled New York’s best. Other options were the Israeli (hummus, cucumber salad, avocado, sprouts and feta cheese on Russian rye bread) for $10 and a hamburger with smoked jalapeño mayo for $9.
While the actual deli experience was lost in the upscale atmosphere of DGS, I would go back for the $15 grilled trout plate with potatoes, kale and salsa verde with a side of $8 “schmutzy” fries (French fries covered in pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing) on somebody else’s dime.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly referred to Taylor Ham as “tailor ham.” We regret this error.