Sandwiches must lack self-esteem. There’s just no other explanation for why they so seldom reach their potential. There they are, packed with so much raw talent. They’ve got everything a splendid meal could ask for—bread, meat, cheese, vegetables, hot and cold elements, soft and crispy textures. What’s more, they’re portable. In theory, they’re damn near perfect. Still, all too often, sandwiches squander the opportunity to shine, instead wallowing in mediocrity and mayonnaise.
Fortunately for East Nashvillians, that’s not case at Mitchell Delicatessen, where the roster of sandwiches is so creative and delicious it makes you wonder if chef-owner David Mitchell is leading the BLTs and muffulettas in daily affirmations to help them realize their self-worth.
More likely, it’s just that Mitchell and former Family Wash chef Julia Helton, who heads up the catering side of the business and co-wrote the menu, have thrown out the hackneyed permutations of lackluster luncheon meats, condiments and wilted lettuce and set out to build sumptuous combinations of fresh, local and flavorful ingredients between two pieces of uncommonly good bread. Whatever accounts for it, the sandwiches at Mitchell Delicatessen lack no self-esteem. They’re good enough, they’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like them.
The Sandwich Cheatsheet, as Mitchell’s menu is called, starts off with a lamb-and-mint-raita combo so satisfying and sophisticated that it’s almost insulting to call it a sandwich. Thin warm folds of sliced roasted lamb are topped with a cool dollop of mint-flecked yogurt sauce and a tussle of lettuce, all between two halves of a buttered hoagie roll. The elegant combination of hot and cool, crispy and creamy establishes a new bar for specialty sandwiches, or at least a reason to get directions to the corner of Riverside and McGavock.
Even in the classic combinations—Reuben, BLT and muffuletta, among others—the quality and proportions of the ingredients are superior to so many versions. Draped with freshly griddled rashers of smoked bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tenn., the BLT showcases the thick, salty meat, unlike so many glorified tomato sandwiches that are simply garnished with cold bacon shrapnel.
The banh mi, an homage to the traditional Vietnamese sandwich, layers tender house-roasted pork, a schmear of homemade liver pâté and a fresh slaw of julienned jicama, carrots and cilantro. While slightly drier than the lamb with raita, the banh mi offers a refreshing spin on a barbecue pork sandwich.
In addition to being piled with good fillings, Mitchell’s sandwiches are well built. Even in the crowded combination of Dietz & Watson turkey, brie, apple and homemade cranberry-jalapeño relish, we could bite into the whole sandwich—without unhinging our jaws or scraping the roofs of our mouths—to capture all the flavors and textures together.
The Reuben sandwich, a deli icon prone to excessive piling-on, offers an ample but not overwhelming portion of tender corned beef from nearby Creekstone Farms in Campbellsburg, Ky. Served on soft, toasted Jewish rye, the thin clove-tinged slices of pink meat are balanced with a modest tangle of sauerkraut and a sweet slather of Thousand Island dressing, making the sandwich a satisfying and comforting warm meal.
No matter how good the filling, a sandwich can’t be any better than its bread. For that critical ingredient, Mitchell—a native Nashvillian and an alumnus of Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market in Green Hills—turns to Silke’s Old World Breads in Clarksville. The hoagie roll, used on the majority of sandwiches on the Cheatsheet, has a soft interior and a crust that toasts to give a delicate exterior crunch. The light, porous rolls absorb the condiments and keep your fingers clean without smothering the main ingredients.
Located at the entrepreneurial crossroads of Riverside Village, David Mitchell’s cheery eatery is quickly emerging as a neighborhood gathering place. Wedged between Sip coffee shop and restaurateur Matt Charette’s stalled sushi project, Watanabe, the deli has a counter with about 10 stools and a handful of tables. In the morning, folks stop by for eggs, grits, French toast, frittatas and Benton’s bacon—all priced by the pound—or to grab a sandwich to take to work. At midday, the airy room bustles with lunchtime traffic, and in the evening, neighbors swing by for meats and cheeses from the deli counter, salads or roasted vegetables by the pound, or soups and other sides. The proximity to East Nashville School of Music makes beer sales a no-no.
Chef James Brabson mans the hot bar, with ever-changing offerings such as lasagna, rosemary-roasted chicken and grilled beets with apple-citrus slaw. We enjoyed a soup of tiny curried lentils, celery and broccoli in a rich dark broth, and a dill-speckled borscht of stewed beets and cabbage. Chili with chunks of steak was thicker and redder in color than we like, and we would have preferred the brussels sprouts had they been roasted instead of steamed, which left them slightly soggy. But on the whole, our meals were excellent, well priced and efficient.
Mitchell’s also provides a rare grocery resource for the neighborhood, with a corner of the store dedicated to shelves of Silke’s breads, a vast catalog of spices and a small selection of produce. On one visit, we found a fairly haggard sampling of shriveled grape tomatoes, squishy kiwis and spongy limes, most of which had been removed by our next visit. In the next few weeks, as Avalon Acres begins delivering local produce, the veggie stand will likely improve.
As the weather warms up and Riverside Village seeds its community garden in the courtyard behind the restaurant, Mitchell Deli will be an ideal spot to order a sandwich and relax on the back patio. After all, you deserve a break. If you don’t think so, repeat after your sandwich: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, gosh darn it, people like me.”
Mitchell Deli is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Breakfast is available until 11 a.m. Catering is available through Julia Helton catering.
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