Garbage Salad is highlight of Grumpy’s DeliWritten by Don Zellers | | email@example.com
I got to Grumpy’s Deli around 12:15 p.m. Fortunately, my wife was able to take an extended lunch break so she could get there before noon to find a table — it’s important to get there early if you don’t want to wait.
The loud din that permeated the bustling deli hampered any conversation, so I dove headfirst into the menu. They don’t serve sandwiches at Grumpy’s; they serve Jenn-Wiches. There are about two dozen choices of specialty sandwiches, plus a “build your own” option that makes the possible combinations of freshly prepared meats, cheeses and breads nearly endless.
My wife already knew what she was going to have: a large Garbage Salad. You can get the small size for $1 less, but she always tells herself that she’ll get a large so she can take some home. This never actually works because it’s so good she always ends up eating it all.
The Garbage Salad is a Downtown Toledo lunchtime staple — it’s mixed greens, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, grilled chicken, raisins and four cheeses (provolone, mozzarella, feta and fresh parmesan) — tossed together with poppy seed dressing and topped off with homemade croutons and real bacon bits. It’s like a carnival of different tastes and textures, but it is no side salad; it’s a meal.
I went with the Saw Buck, an inch-and-a-half of stacked pastrami, corned beef and salami, wrapped snugly between two pieces of Swiss cheese and sandwiched between two perfectly toasted slices of hearty rye. My Saw Buck was dressed with a tasty Dijon mustard. I don’t proclaim to know much about a lot of things, but I do know mustard. I currently have seven different kinds in my refrigerator. I’m kind of a freak about it. The Saw Buck featured some top-shelf mustard.
By the time I was about halfway through my sandwich, my wife asked me, “whaddya think?” As I answered with a mouthful of meat and cheese, I realized I could actually hear her. The deli had grown noticeably quieter. As I searched the room, I noticed that hardly anyone was talking. The other patrons were all happily buried in their food.
Seated next to the decadent dessert cooler, I heard an unbelievable-looking chocolate chip cheesecake calling to me throughout our meal. It looked to be about 3-to-4 inches thick, with a solid chocolate crown. It was glorious. However, after my hearty sandwich and redskin potato salad, my stomach was approaching its limit. Plus, I knew the last bit of room was reserved for a Grumpy’s cookie.
Legend has it that if you work Downtown and you are “mean enough” to not invite a co-worker to Grumpy’s with you, you had better at least bring them back one of Grumpy’s homemade cookies. I tried the chocolate chip walnut and a bite of the peanut butter chip cookie my wife picked, and I understood why the legend was born.
Jeff Horn, otherwise known as “Grumpy,” has operated the restaurant for 26 years. He earned the nickname working for his family’s hardware store. Apparently his lack of passion for nuts and bolts left him a bit irritable. By the registers are letters of complaints levied against either Horn or his staff for rudeness. Instead of hiding them, he displays them like badges of honor.
His nickname and reputation aside, I found the owner to be rather pleasant. Maybe he’s mellowing with age or maybe I caught him on a good day. The waitresses were not overly friendly, but were not rude, either. They could probably be best described as “efficient.” Most of the time they could be seen speedwalking through the maze of tables or sprinting up and down the steps that connect the kitchen area to the main dining room. They don’t even have time to pour pop; they just drop off a can and a glass of ice.
The décor at Grumpy’s is pretty old school. It is unpainted brick, exposed pipes and duct work, wood floors, and large areas with bare walls, broken up by some wildlife paintings and an old wooden sign that reads “Henry F. Horn Hardware.” The Huron street location is the fourth incarnation of the deli, which started in a hardware store on Broadway. It’s been sitting about a stone’s throw from the Bronze Boar for the last 10 years.
The upstairs area has some additional seating and an open kitchen for patrons who enjoy spying on the preparation of their food. This space has been jazzed up with a piece by experimental local artist Mr. Atomic, an angel that boasts the phrase “From Jennifer’s oven … to God’s lips.” It’s a tribute to Jennifer Shemak, Horn’s stepdaughter, who does most of the cooking and will take over the restaurant in the near future. Shemak didn’t go to culinary school or study fine cuisine in Europe. She simply became a sandwich master working for the family business since the deli’s inception.
Grumpy’s hours are a little restrictive; it is only open for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on weekdays. The owners chose these hours so they can concentrate on catering nights and weekends.
To be honest, not everything was perfect at Grumpy’s. It took about 25 minutes to get our food and it seemed a little odd that I had to pay an extra buck for my sandwich to be heated up, especially since the sandwiches, as well as the burgers and salads, are all in the $8 to $11 range.
While the price may be a little higher than at many of your ordinary delis, Grumpy’s quality and taste are anything but ordinary.
I’m not sure why Horn wasn’t fond of the hardware business, but I am glad he took his energy and passion and put it into food.
Don Zellers is co-producer of “Fred Lefebvre and the Morning News” and co-host of “The Benchwarmers” on News Talk 1370 WSPD. He is also the station’s Good Swill Ambassador. Don has enjoyed an unrelenting love affair with food for pretty much his whole life and has been known to put on “eating displays” for friends and co-workers.