New Wave Old World Delis

What do you think of when you hear the word “deli?” What goes through my mind are all the traditional Old World shops with delicious cured meats hanging in the windows, the Italian salumerias or Jewish delicatessens that have been making sandwiches and selling traditional foods for many, many decades.

Today, though, there’s a new crop of delis where you can enjoy all kinds of global specialties, from freshly prepared soups and different kinds of hummus and olives to fully prepared meals and sandwiches ranging from pastrami to banh mi to tortas. These are quality-oriented delis with a modern interpretation, where you can still enjoy those mouthwateringly delicious, salty cured meats but you can choose from an array of different breads and condiments, plus nutritious touches like a kale and quinoa salad alongside the traditional coleslaw and potato salad.

In Dallas, where I currently live, there are places like Eatzi’s Market & Bakery, with its multiple stations selling everything from deli meats and cheeses and a Chef’s Case full of prepared foods to grab-and-go sushi and made-to-order sandwiches and grill items. Or the great Central Market, a gourmet grocery store chain and self-proclaimed “foodie wonderland” where you can not only stock up on groceries but also take cooking classes, order fresh flowers, or purchase chef-prepared foods like tamales and barbecued meats. These are “delis” for today’s customers, who are more demanding, sophisticated, and health-oriented than ever before.

My friend and former colleague Ron Simon owns just such a place: ‘Ōlena by Chef Ron Simon, in Honolulu. This is not your standard style of deli—it’s a unique and modern way of taking old techniques with a Pacific Rim twist. ‘Ōlena specializes in what Ron calls “Grab-n-Go Gourmet” fare with clean, quality ingredients to nourish body and soul. With a background in fine dining and training in both French culinary techniques and patisserie, Ron wanted to offer fresh, healthy, upscale food with the convenience of takeout.

The seasonally changing menu at ‘Ōlena features local favorites like poke bowls and musubi (a sushi-like snack consisting of meat like BBQ brisket or adobo pork belly wrapped in seaweed rice) along with burgers and grab-and-go daily sandwich and salad specials. Signatures include Sous Vide Herb Chicken, Lemongrass Tofu, and basmati rice infused with coconut milk, cinnamon sticks, lemongrass, cloves, and turmeric, which is widely believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—and is the source of the shop’s name.

It’s a deli-style of service and convenience with food that suits today’s customers. The world we live in today has so much diversity and there’s so much variety in its food. This has helped to transform the modern deli counter into a place where you can enjoy a real fusion of styles and flavors, along with more nutritional balance.

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