When Tony Delia and his wife, Geri, packed up and left California last year and headed to Idaho to enjoy retirement, they intended to relax a bit after working for many years in the restaurant business. Then boredom set in.
“I don’t golf much. But I like to fish and cook,” quips Tony, a classically trained chef who got his formal education at the California Culinary Academy.
So they decided to open a small restaurant. On a Roll, a New York City-inspired eatery, debuted earlier this year in an old house along the main drag in downtown Eagle.
Their new concept had some self-imposed stipulations: The restaurant would be closed two days a week and only be open during daytime hours. That’s kind of retirement, is it not? People in the restaurant industry, especially chefs, are wired a little differently than everyone else on the planet. There’s surely a restlessness that comes after working so many hours in a professional kitchen. It’s hard to unwind, man.
So what does an Italian-American guy from California know about running an eatery that specializes in Big Apple-themed sandwiches and hot dogs?
It all starts with the meats. Tony Delia is a bit of a perfectionist in that regard. He smokes his own turkey, pastrami, corned beef, bacon and brisket. And this is what makes the sandwiches so dang good at On a Roll, which has a logo that features a crusty roll riding a skateboard. Get the double entendre? The roll is on a roll. That’s California talking.
Speaking of crusty rolls, Acme Bakeshop delivers freshly baked ciabatta, rye bread, wheat bread, hot dog buns and other rustic breads first thing in the morning.
Diners order at the walk-up counter and grab a seat in the attractive dining area or on the front patio and wait for their sandwiches and sides to be delivered within minutes in paper-lined baskets. The small dining room is bedecked with oversized photo prints of vintage New York City scenes, and don’t be surprised to hear some Sinatra crooning overhead.
There are decisions involved when ordering sandwiches, like what kind of bread and a choice of potato salad, coleslaw or macaroni salad.
Grilled sandwiches include an excellent hot pastrami ($9.99/named 5th Avenue), on light rye in my case, built with marbled, smoky meat, gooey Swiss and a skiff of yellow mustard. With meat this tasty, not much else is needed. But a juicy dill pickle spear and red potato salad (bolstered by pungent blue cheese) that came on the side surely made it a meal.
The Reuben ($9.99/The Bronx), also ordered on rye, boasts shaved ribbons of crimson-hued corned beef redolent of pickling spices, layered with vinegary sauerkraut, tangy Russian dressing and melted Swiss. I went for a side of celery seed-flecked macaroni salad tossed in a slightly sweet dressing with chopped red onion, bell pepper and crunchy celery bits.
I was surprisingly smitten by a schnitzel sandwich ($8.99/Hell’s Kitchen). This pounded-out, breaded and fried pork loin cutlet (incredibly tender with an essence of butter, fennel pollen and herbs) came constructed on toasty white bread with gooey provolone and a heap of creamy slaw pocked with celery, carrot, red cabbage and dried cranberries. I tagged on some hand-cut fries (add $1), which were crispy and showing some skin.
I also went for a brisket sandwich ($9.99/East Side), on a crusty ciabatta roll with tender chunks of smoky beef and caramelized onions in a barbecue sauce that was too sweet for my liking.
It wouldn’t be a New York City-inspired eatery without a few hot dogs on the menu. Don’t expect to find any boiled, rubbery dogs here, though.
One sure bet is the The Hudson ($8.99), a grilled quarter-pound kosher beef dog plopped on a long, crusty bun with sliced dill pickle, yellow mustard, Swiss and some of that yummy pastrami on top for good measure.
Good cold sandwich picks include the Rockefeller ($8.99), a fresh tasting smoked turkey breast sandwich on fluffy wheat bread with provolone, sliced tomato, green leaf lettuce, shaved red onion and just the right amount of mayonnaise. Before smoking the bird, Delia injects the turkey with butter, apple juice and herbs. The result is super-tender turkey with a sweet backbeat.
Or go for a plump Italian sub ($8.99/Brooklyn), made on chewy-good ciabatta with a stratum of marbled meats (capicola, Genoa salami and ham), lettuce, provolone, roasted red bell pepper, chopped pepperoncini and a stroke of herby vinaigrette.
Vegetarians, or anyone for that matter, should try a side order of cauliflower bites ($4.99), a big basket of deep-fried flowerettes (with a proper clingy breading) served with a creamy buffalo sauce akin to spicy aioli.
On a Roll also serves a small breakfast menu that consists of New York City-themed egg sandwiches and bagels.
The Delias definitely run a slick operation. I’ll be dreaming about the pastrami and corned beef for at least a few weeks.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a Roll
Address: 257 E. State St., Eagle
Phone: (208) 761-5225
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m.
Menu price range: soups and salads $2.99-$10.99; sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers $6.99-$9.99.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: March 2016