210 W. Ironwood Dr.,
Hipper Than Hip and Trippin' on Rye
The classic rock radio being piped in overhead clashed not unpleasantly with the modern rock radio emanating from the kitchen. From where I sat, both were approximately equal in volume. The Cars’ “Let's Go” cruised in the backseat with Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” which marched shoulder-to-shoulder with the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” which surfed nicely in top of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and so on.
Normally, hearing different two songs at the same time makes me as cranky and irritable as a McCain voter, but on this occasion the musical mish-mash seemed to work. That dark, rainy eve Schlotzsky’s was remarkably comfortable, peaceful and still, and as I sat nursing a cold with steamy cups of Cheesy Broccoli soup and mentally combining the two music sources into one new fascinatingly chaotic tune, I began to wonder if I’d accidentally doubled my last dose of Dristan.
It’s the same dreamy feeling I get every time I visit Schlotzsky’s. Regular readers know I don’t like to spend a lot of ink on chain-style eateries, but I’ve yet to find any delis in town that keep me coming back the way Schlotzsky’s does, and the owners of the local franchise of the Texas-based deli are North Idahoan all the way. I’ve been frequenting the place since it was christened in 1997, and even through the fog of cold medication, I can’t recall having had anything but fine food and outstanding customer service. The smiling, hospitable crew that runs the show here are younger, hipper, and way better looking than you and I. Cool, modish fashion trends hide underneath work aprons and edgy haircuts are tucked into black Schlotzsky’s visors.
The hipness factor is so thick they’ve even named their current “limited engagement” promotion after the phenomenon. “Hip Chick” describes a trio of chicken sandwiches, and is also the phrase worn quite descriptively on the t-shirt of the counter girl, the perfect choice to go with her tan corduroy hip-huggers. I’m not sure how au courant my decision to go for a medium sized pastrami and Swiss was, but it was something I hadn’t tried and it sounded like a nice way to accompany my usual cup of soup.
I was lucky that night because the pot of Broccoli & Cheddar Cheese soup was hot, fresh and full. Schlotzsky’s always has terrific soup, and they’re kind enough to allow all-you-can-eat action (just get a fresh cup each time, as I was once sternly reminded by a germ-conscious employee). It’s obvious which variety is my fave, but they also make an awesome Chicken Tortilla Soup, a soul-warming Navy Bean Soup, and an awesome spicy Chili, among dozens of others. Typically, they have 3-4 soup choices on offer at a time, all in a well-stocked serve-yourself area.
Schlotzsky’s sandwiches themselves are unlike those served anywhere else primarily due to the use of a unique form of bread which could accurately be described as a giant, ultra-soft English muffin. The bun is piled high with meats, cheeses and other hip ingredients, then the whole affair is oven toasted to melded perfection, halved and served. “The Original” is the one that started it all at the first Schlotzsky’s back in Austin in 1971. It’s ham, Genoa and Cotto salamis with melted cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses on Sourdough with black olives, red onion, tomato, lettuce, and the ubiquitous “special sauce” that adorns nearly every “fresh-from-scratch” sandwich on the menu. “The Texas Schlotzsky’s” scorches taste buds with ham, cheddar and jalapenos on a jalapeno cheese bread, and the Turkey Guacamole on wheat is like summer in Puerto Vallarta. The Asian Chicken wrap is another frequent favorite of mine with its killer combo of Japanese tonkatsu and sweet chili sauce.
Also worth consideration is the quad of Angus beef sandwiches, the albacore tuna or the Fresh Veggie with spicy ranch dressing. Bagged chips are available as a side or as part of a “meal deal” and the fresh-baked cookies are a delicious deal at 45 cents each. Schlotzsky’s also serves a selection of first-rate individual pizzas, including the much-loved Thai Chicken Pizza. Consisting of grilled chicken breast, mozzarella, basil pesto and Thai peanut sauce and sprinkled with julienne carrots, cilantro, and green onions, I find myself inclined to order it every time I visit, but resist for fear of burnout.
“Angus” is a manly man’s word, bringing to mind images of thick, glowering cattle or maybe AC/DC guitarist Angus Young in his schoolboy uniform. I felt a slight rush of machismo (although it could have been the cold meds) as I ordered the Angus Pastrami and Swiss but it was quickly deflated when I arrived at the pick-up window only to come to the horrific revelation that my sandwich was served on dark rye bread. Ugh! I’m not known for being tremendously picky, but the flavor of rye is one thing I hadn’t been able to stand since I was a kid. I’d rather be a trouper than a complainer so I decided to give it a taste anyway. It had been many moons since I’d decided rye was the enemy and after a few bites I realized it was actually pretty okay.
After a few more bites I completely forgot about why I ever avoided rye bread in the first place, my mind drifting off to a happy land of peppery pastrami, melted swiss and tangy mustard, a very hip land where two different radio songs combine magically together in discordant harmony. Let’s call it Dristanland.