Restaurant Reviews

Dining review: Main Street Deli strives to be different

Don’t let the name Main Street Deli fool you.

While the name may seem somewhat generic, this new Downtown Boise deli strives to do things differently than many other delis.

Squeezed in a row of retail shops, a few doors down from Alia’s Coffee House, the hyper-local Main Street Deli is housed in a former Subway spot. Now when you walk in, you’ll see a mellow gun-metal-blue paint job and dark wood and bamboo accents at the ordering counter.

Main Street Deli is not a traditional deli, per se, with jars of pickles lined up on a shiny glass case filled with cold cuts and big blocks of cheese.

Instead, its chalkboard menu guides people in a healthy direction, and even keeps vegetarians in mind. Expect to find a small yet select lineup of soups, salads and sandwiches — all made with a twist using local produce and breads from Gaston’s Bakery.

One of the interesting choices you’ll notice right away is a Vietnamese-style banh mi sandwich ($8). Owner Grant Rosendahl, who worked in upscale restaurants in San Francisco for many years, also picked up a few culinary tips while doing a teaching stint in Da Nang, on the central coast of Vietnam.

He’s quick to admit that his version is not exactly how they make them in Saigon and points north. But it’s a tasty sandwich, built on a crusty baguette roll with shreds of tender pulled pork, spicy ground pork, Asian slaw, cucumber, jalapeno and a piquant chili-garlic sauce made from the pan drippings.

I would like to see Rosendahl assert himself with more of this Southeast Asian influence. A few Vietnamese summer salads and more sandwiches, perhaps?

For the hot pastrami sandwich ($8), Rosendahl brines his own brisket and treats it to a sous-vide process in which the meat gets slowly cooked (in a water bath at a controlled low temperature) for 48 hours in its own juices and pickling spices.

The result is tender and briny pastrami that gets placed between chewy-good ciabatta with melted Swiss and coleslaw lubed with heady horseradish cream.

If you like things on the sweeter side, try the Sweet and Savory ($8), a thick ham sandwich on a crusty roll with chunky apple chutney and a compote-like huckleberry sauce spiked with smoky chipotle peppers.

The Northender Veggie BLT ($7) has the potential to be a really good sandwich for the meatless crowd, with its house-smoked tempeh (a fermented tofu-like product), mixed greens tossed with green goddess dressing and sliced tomato on multi-grain bread smeared with verdant kale pesto. But for now, the slabs of tempeh bacon are cut too thick to become crisp, as one would expect on a BLT.

At this point, the sandwiches (save the mushy tempeh bacon) seem to be more consistent than the entrée-sized salads.

For example, one day I popped in for a few items to go, so I didn’t realize until I got home that the Idaho Cobb salad ($7.50) was remiss of its expected bacon and hard-boiled egg.

What I got was chopped romaine (with a few mixed greens thrown in) mingled with blanched red and purple potatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese crumbles and tender pieces of chicken. The salad came with a side of standard-issue blue cheese dressing.

The beet salad ($7) was a hodgepodge of spinach, kale and arugula tossed in tangy lemon-Dijon vinaigrette with crimson and golden beets, blue cheese crumbles and pulverized pieces of candied pecans. But I didn’t find any of the promised strawberries.

Folks who are gluten-free should be happy with the Latino Insalada ($7.50), a Southwest-inspired salad with chopped romaine, kernels of roasted corn, black beans, avocado, chicken and bright pico de gallo tossed in cilantro-spinach pesto with crumbly cotija cheese. Tortilla chip crumbs and fried onions come on top — adding some crunch. A few lime wedges and more salsa would really make this salad sing.

Vegans can’t go wrong with a Veggie Super Food salad ($7.50) made with spinach and kale, tossed with tiny grains of chewy quinoa, aged tofu, blueberries, dried cranberries, asparagus, sunflower seeds and more in a housemade green goddess dressing with a pronounced basil kick.

The deli puts out a different soup every day. I enjoyed a fragrant chicken tortilla soup pocked with corn, bell pepper and black beans, garnished with tortilla chips and cotija.

Main Street Deli is obviously still trying to figure out what works and doesn’t, but it appears that Rosendahl is passionate enough about serving thoughtful food to make it work.

Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: