So I've been here twice now within the past week. Once in the morning to try out their corned beef hash, and once in the early afternoon to try out their corned beef sandwich. I'd say the results were mixed.
The first time I went was in the morning last week, and I basically arrived there when they opened. There's no getting around it: it's a *scary* area to be at that time of day. I fully admit that I was more than just a bit worried for my vehicle and its contents, especially when the sign on the front of the door was taken into account. I'll let the curious find a picture of that sign on the internet if they choose to search for it.
I actually very much liked my initial experience here. It was very homey, with very few patrons, only a few lights on, and very much a personalized experience. I had ample time to chat with various people, including the owner, who personally made my corned beef hash. It was very good CBH, too...I liked the freshness of the ingredients, and the portion size was quite fair for the $7 price tag. It's hard to deny the quality of this dish. It might not change your life, but it'll certainly distract you from the possibility that your car window is about to be bashed in. Service was nice, and it was very much a place where the regulars are known, and they just sort of wander over to the coffee pot and pour themselves a cup while they talk with Stu, the owner. It's a nice thing, I'd say.
So I went back today to try the corned beef sandwich on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing. Some of that charm that I experienced earlier was definitely missing. For a place that had a pretty hopping lunch crowd (I didn't have to wait for a table, but only a few were empty), with the lights fully on, it's kind of hard to understand why a bit more money isn't put into a few more of the aesthetics, like at the very least a cleaner/newer floor. Some might call it "vintage", but vintage can still be clean and well-cared-for. The state of this floor in the daylight really isn't reclaimable...it's time to put some money into the building, quite frankly. I had initially thought that they were struggling to get people in the door, but looking at the lunch crowd today, it didn't really seem that way to me.
The service was definitely far poorer today, too. My server apologized for the crappy service...at the *end* of the meal. At least twice, I had to either flag someone else down who worked there or work my way to the counter for a drink refill, more napkins, etc. I tipped somewhere around 10%, and felt I was overtipping. If I end up getting the same server in the future, I'll ask for a different server (this server was different than the server I had on the previous occasion, where I tipped about 25%), and if I can't get a different server, I'll leave.
The sandwich itself, unfortunately, was what I'd call "serviceable". I'd give it a C- or, at the *very* best, a C. It's not the worst one I've had in the area, but it might be the second or third worst. It's not as bad as the flavorless one I had from Bread Basket Deli, and I liked it better than the overall sandwich of Zingerman's, but this sandwich (even just talking about the sandwich itself...let's put the pickle on the back burner for the moment) just doesn't even hold a candle to Stage Deli, and it falls behind Star Deli and Plaza Deli, and others I'm sure. It wasn't *bad*...it just isn't anything of consequence. If I'm jonesing for a corned beef sandwich, I'd just keep driving by and go to one of the better places. If I've *got to* have a corned beef sandwich *right now*, and I'm not leaving downtown for four hours, well...this one might work. If I'm there before 11AM, though? I'ma gettin' the hash without batting an eye.
I want to like it more than I do. I'll be going back for the CBH if I'm in the area. As for it being worth any kind of special trip downtown for the sandwiches? Absolutely not.
It has its charm, and it certainly could help its cause by updating some (not all!) of the place to make it a bit cleaner overall. I'm certainly not expecting this place to be a hipster-magnet. Even so: it's not exactly at the top of its class, even if it is an oasis in the middle of a deli desert. Go with mediocre expectations and you probably won't be disappointed. Go with those same expectations in the morning, and you'll probably be quite pleased.
Oh, and the pickle? Hideous. Just *awful*. They don't have new dills available with the corned beef sandwich (which is a sin) but what they do serve? They're bad. I'm not sure where they get them from, and perhaps they're not standard dill pickles (perhaps garlic dills or something like that?), but whatever it was, I hated it. I didn't come close to finishing it, and it's all I had to cleanse the palate from what can only be called The Messiest Corned Beef Sandwich On Record. That wouldn't be a bad thing if the *taste* of the sandwich was worth the trouble...but again: it's just a functional sandwich. A better pickle would help, but it doesn't change the nature of the sandwich itself.