630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill
919-929-7700 | deliedison.com
A bagel of real virtue is an almost unattainable quarry in the South. Like most people who find beauty in this rare beast, I have ironclad ideas on what bagels should and should not be. I was thrilled to discover that the bagels at Deli Edison come fairly close to my personal archetype. Their shiny lacquered crusts yield an audible crackle, and the interiors balance heft and chewy density with a soft, toothsome crumb. They fight back, just not too hard.
Of course, if you ask Sam Suchoff, there’s no such thing as a perfect bagel.
“I’ve eaten somewhere around 500,000 bagels in my life,” Suchoff explains. “I tend to stop listening when someone tries explaining to me what a ‘real bagel’ is. It’s food. It’s culture. It’s memory. It’s sustenance. It’s complicated.”
Deli Edison, which opened in December, is the latest project from animal-welfare-certified-ham mastermind Suchoff and his partners Pete Wagner and Dan Obusan. Suchoff is also the chef and owner of the barbecue restaurant The Pig and The Neighborhood Bar; the three businesses share a parking lot with a karate dojo and a dry-cleaner in a tidy little shopping center on Weaver Dairy Road.
Speaking of archetypes, the woodsy, semi-suburban setting might be the only thing keeping Deli Edison from achieving its own state of platonic idealism. Delis are unavoidable in our nation’s more walkable cities, where they range in quality from dubious purveyors of cut-rate survival calories to temples of worship for cultish sandwich devotees—often with an imperceptible line separating the two.
But that kind of deli—you know, the New York kind—is a relative newcomer to our firmly automotive commuter scene, and the ones that have popped up recently are still finding their footing with Southern diners who aren’t accustomed to a stop at the corner familiar as part of their daily routine. Of these welcome and ambitious establishments, like Durham’s Lucky’s Deli and Carrboro’s Neal’s Deli, Deli Edison is perhaps the most self-assured, with an admirable commitment to its own charmingly askew approach.
“Delis tend to be freeform,” Wagner says. “We don’t have to stick to a single concept. A deli can be quick but still have a bit of the ol’ roozle-doozle.”
Case in point: The Piedmont—a study in whatever the hell “roozle-doozle” is—a breakfast sandwich that will surely haunt my dreams until I can once again cram one into my face. It’s a hunk of sage-tinged breakfast sausage nestled between a layer of melted provolone and another of fluffy grilled egg. But what elevates it into classic-level territory—the kind of thing you eat as a high schooler only to spend college lamenting its unavailability—is a smear of cream cheese infused with house-made ‘nduja, a whipped, spreadable salami of enchanting piquancy. I had mine on a toasted everything bagel, and at 8:00 a.m. on a freezing Monday—let me tell you—it was wild, wild times.
The lunch menu has its own left-of-center concoctions. The Nonna is a hoagie stuffed with unctuous, herb-flecked porchetta, pickled vegetables, and roasted broccoli rabe contributing tangy and bitter offsets to the satisfyingly greasy pork.
One of the heartiest sandwiches comes adorned with slabs of BBQ-glazed “impossible” meatloaf, a fairly stupendous simulacrum of the real thing. Made in-house with “fake meat and love,” according to Wagner, it’s a feat of vegetarian legerdemain.
“We wanted to create an equal experience,” Obusan says. “Not just a good vegan sandwich, but a good sandwich, period.”
And have no fear if you’re looking for more conventional deli stuff, like an inviting refrigerated case stocked with salads and prepared foods. The smoked whitefish is meatier than creamy, a rejoinder to the sad and sodden fish salads of the world. The egg salad is similarly addictive—airy, tangy, and electrified with fresh dill.
I hoped to close out my visit to Deli Edison with a staple black-and-white cookie, teased on the website but sadly nowhere to be found. I did, however, indulge in a frisbee-sized gingersnap made with bacon fat. Its flavor and texture were a genuinely new experience for me, crumbling into smoky, melty cookie molecules the moment it hit my tongue. I can’t imagine a more appropriate closing statement from a Southern deli, especially one with roots so inextricably entwined with local, sustainable pork.
Some people may not need bacon fat in their confectionary. I’m no longer one of those people.
Contact contributing food editor Nick Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.