One of the first rules new members of the Deli get taught is that it’s their job to taste the food. It’s a rough job. This rule was originally put in place many years ago because at the time our kitchen was a bunch of kids who loved food, but didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of professional cooking experience or training—and we wanted to make sure everything tasted just right. As we gained experience and consistency, we learned that the rule served another, equally important, function—it’s a lot easier to offer recommendations to shoppers if you know what you like. After seven years at the Deli, I’m happy to report that even I still love the food. This month, we thought it’d be a fun idea to poll the staff and see what foods they still love—both the newbies and those, like me, that have been eating it every day for years. Much like my compatriot in the big Kitchen, the results surprised me.
I had expected most of our staff to lean towards the more complicated and esoteric of our recipes, the ones that I tend to write about for articles. As it turns out, many of the staff favorites match yours—the list generated included most of our oldest, simplest, and (not coincidentally) best-selling foods. Perhaps just as surprisingly, though no vegans work in the Deli, many of the items were our vegan specialties—especially amongst the staff that’s been here longest. So here’s a brief list of items chosen as favorites by the folks who eat and serve them all day long.
Coming in at number one was the salad bar. Why? Our salad bar is huge, with around 40 different salad fixings everyday. The veggies on the bar are almost 100 percent organic, with the exception of the roasted red peppers. The soups offered are always interesting, made from scratch, and better than almost any soup I’ve ever had at a restaurant. We offer four flavors of Annie’s organic dressings, two wonderful dressings from Renaissance Farms, and a variety of others from Bragg’s to red wine and balsamic vinegar to extra-virgin olive oil. Our salad bar also has a wide variety of prepared salads that contain organic ingredients—and we try to balance the options so that you can have your both veggies and proteins. One staff member said that they chose the salad bar because they can eat there all week and never have the same meal twice.
Number two on the list of favorites was a tie between two of our oldest recipes—both far pre-date my employment at the co-op. They were Jeff’s “Cheesy” Bowties and the BBQ Seitan—both vegan! The “cheesy” bowties aren’t really cheesy if you haven’t guessed already. They get their texture and flavor from nutritional yeast—yeast cultured with sweeteners like sugarcane or beet molasses. It’s high in B vitamins and very good for you, but the staff chose this because “it tastes really good.” The same answer was given for the BBQ Seitan—even though seitan (a wheat gluten) is also very high in protein with a chewy texture that mimics traditional BBQ quite well.
Numbers four and five on the list were newcomers to the Deli—relatively speaking. At four was the Pesto Walnut Feta Salad, a creation of Josh, our Kitchen Manager. Combining our basil pesto, toasted walnuts and (obviously) feta with pasta and spinach this salad has quickly become a best seller. High in protein and with powerful flavor, it was chosen by staff because it is “yummy, and fun to hear people try to order quickly.” Number five is one of the newest entries to our menu, and the highest scoring hot case item, the Curried Butternut Stew. This stew was created by a recently departed, and sorely missed, cook one day based on the popularity of our Indian food day that we feature most weeks. It’s a hearty stew with a perfectly blended combination of sweet and spicy that will warm you up on a cold day and (through the magic of spicy food that I’ve never truly understood) cool you off when it’s hot. It’s very comforting, yet it’s also very nutritious.
The final winner amongst the staff was a recipe that we came up with after a day of brainstorming. Our goal was to come up with a recipe that was obvious, that everyone had tried at some point in their life, that made you feel like you were at your grandma’s house, and that for whatever reason we’d never thought of—seriously, that’s what we were looking for. We found the answer with our good old-fashioned Broccoli Salad, and we slapped our collective foreheads at the fact that we’d never tried it. Broccoli, mayonnaise, cheese, and sunflower seeds make up this favorite that I swear I must have eaten at a thousand family get-togethers in my youth. Combining the crunchiness of the broccoli with the sweet of the mayo, it’s the very definition of comfort food for the summer.
There were many others that received votes—including the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta (also fun to say fast), Summer Cous Cous, and the Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad. Our editor also asked me to include mine, and after ruling out the entire cheese case since I’ve just written four straight articles about it, my answer surprised me as well. Mine is the Granny’s Potato Salad. The buttermilk dressing and the slight pop of the potato when you take a bite make this the one salad I go back to time and again after all these years. It makes sense though. After all we are a deli, and what is a more quintessential deli food than potato salad?