Ken Leighton 4:30 a.m., March 4
Ida's Deli: Lebanese surprise in the giant black building
Ida's got a big following for her hot beef melts
Walking past that big black glass building at 7th and B in the financial district.
Thing I notice is the single table and chair under the tree outside that slope-glass frontage. Gets me curious.
So I haul inside into the giant lobby. On the right is this sprawling deli. It's all blond wood tables and chairs, plus comfy corporate lounge chairs.
Usually these delis turn me off in their predictability. But something, maybe the smells, maybe the roll-down butcher's paper where they have written the specials for the day, and crossed off the soups as they run out, tweeks my curiosity. Some original thinking goin' on here.
So I stop for just a coffee. Then, as I'm getting it, these hot cheesy, beefy smells start crossing my nose. Oh Lord. Have to stop.
Sam the sandwich-maker says it's the beef pepper melt. He points to the giant wall menu. "Hot roast beef smothered in melted cheddar and diced peperoncinis served hot on a toasted baguette with lettuce, tomato and mayo."
Cost's $5.95. While I'm waiting I notice this giant salad bar for $5.99 per pound. Little sign says "Please put dressing, oil and vinegar before weighing."
But I'm glad I went for the beef pepper melt. First rule: ya gotta eat it, like, right now, when the melted cheddar's still oozing its hot yellow lava down over the meat. So lush. Combines well with the crispy baguette. Total lunch for six buckeroos.
Turns out there is a real Ida. She's out talking to customers. Says this used to be Organics to Go before she took over a couple of years back. She says they came (down from Washington state), opened up seven places in office towers like this, all at once, delivering the organic revolution to downtown. But downtown wasn't ready. "Too specialized, too expensive, servings too small," she says.
She is from a Lebanese restaurant family. "I grew up under the table," she says. Her parents ran a Denny's and a Bob's Big Boy. "I love doing this. The thing is, even when corporate chiefs come down from the tower, once they're eating food they're like kids again. They forget the tensions upstairs for a moment."
The one Lebanese dish they have is the mujadara ($3.45 and $5.95). "It's a poor people's dish back in Lebanon," she says. "It's lentils and rice topped with our salsa. Here it's a bit of a luxury."
They're open for breakfast and lunch till 3:30.
Next time, if it's sunny, I'm taking the line outside table among the ferns.