There’s this great deli, Adelphi Deli, right by my parents’ house on Long Island. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best deli in the United States. I can already hear people saying stuff in their heads like, “That’s not true. My deli is the best deli!” You’re wrong. Even if your deli is running at full capacity, doing absolutely everything right, it can only ever be second best, and a distant second at that. Trust me, if you ever go to my deli, you’ll never be able to eat at your deli back home ever again. So I’d almost recommend that you never come to my deli, unless you plan on moving close enough to satisfy what will wind up being semi-regular cravings for a really amazing deli experience. But I can’t not recommend coming, because, like I already said, it’s the best. I can also hear a second group of people saying stuff in their heads like, “No! Adelphi Deli isn’t the best deli. Carnegie Deli/Katz’s Deli/Second Ave. Deli is the best deli!” To these people I definitely don’t invite you to the Adelphi Deli, because you’re basically just going for the U2 or the Coldplay of delicatessen, and you wouldn’t know a good deli sandwich if it walked up to you, shoved itself inside your mouth, and then forcibly opened and closed your jaw for you, leaving you with nothing to do but to sit back and just bask in the deliciousness that would now be entering your digestive system.
Adelphi Deli isn’t anything gourmet or overly fancy; there’s nothing inaccessible about it. They just happen to specialize in making pretty much any sandwich that has or will ever exist on the planet earth, and they make it the absolute best, every single time. They have every cold cut you can imagine. They have a rotating selection of piping hot food. If you want an egg sandwich, they’ll make you an egg sandwich, even if it’s past two o’clock, even though the sign says “Breakfast served until 2:00 pm,” and I prefer it that way, because it makes me feel like they’re going out of their way for me, like even their own breakfast sandwich rules don’t stand a chance against such superb customer service.
Whenever I’m on Long Island I like to get Adelphi Deli for lunch. The only thing is, so does everyone who happens to be on Long Island. So you go there and you have to wait. Even if you think you’re being smart and ordering everything in advance on the phone, you still have to wait on line, because half the people on line have probably also ordered their food ahead of time. But it’s actually OK. It’s a pleasure to wait on line at Adelphi Deli. Why? Because you get to watch everyone talk to the boss, Jim – you know he’s the boss because while everyone else working there wears a white polo under their dark green apron, Jim wears a white button down and a tie under his – and then eventually it’ll be your turn to get talk to Jim.
Watching Jim interact with his customers must be what it was like to watch Mozart conduct his orchestras many centuries ago. Jim is the very best at what he does, at running Adelphi Deli. When I first started going there, I thought that, wow, Adelphi Deli sure has a lot of regulars. Jim would always greet people by name. And it does have a ton of regulars. But after a few visits, I realized that it’s not just the regulars that Jim knows. He knows every single person that has ever stepped foot in Adelphi Deli. By name. And he knows at least one personal anecdote to really customize the greeting.
One time it was really, really busy, and Jim was schmoozing at high gear. I swear, I heard in what had to be less than sixty second, “Hey Mr. Halifax. How’s the new Buick running? Mrs. Smith, great to see you. How’s the new hip? Mr. O’Brien. Congrats on the promotion!” and he went down the line until everyone felt like they were the only customer in the store. I was a little nervous at first, because I felt like I was missing some sort of connection that Jim has with everyone else. But he was very cool about it, just asking me what I was up to, nothing too specific. The next time I came in, which had to have been months later, he started asking me about how my brother was doing in law-school, if my parents had a good vacation in Massachusetts … it was incredible. How does he do it? Does he have a team of detectives working for him? I’m the kind of guy who has to ask a new coworker to repeat his or her name over and over again, even after they’ve been working with more for a week. Jim, I think, knows all about you even before you have a chance to step into the deli. And I think he uses that knowledge to make sure that everyone’s sandwich is exactly how they like it, every single time. Like I said, best deli in the US.
One time I was waiting on the deli line for a long time. This woman came in and just kind of hovered, not in line, but around the line for a while, almost like she was waiting to talk to somebody. I could tell she was up to something, so I kept my eye on her. She waited for maybe five to ten minutes, hardly no time at all for Adelphi Deli, and then she made her move. One of the counter people asked who was next, and she just kind of stepped in and said, “Oh, I’m next. All I want is this, this ready-to-eat soup. Nothing else. Just this soup.” I know what she was thinking. She was thinking that her purchase was a quick one, that she didn’t deserve to wait on line like everyone else. She would be in and out, no problem. Why wait? She didn’t have to wait. Right? She’s better than everyone else. Why would she wait on such a long line for just a container of soup? Who waits for soup? Oh and, well, do you have any bread? Just a little bread. You don’t have to toast it or anything. Or just toast it lightly. Just a little bit. This won’t take long. I’ll be out of here in ten seconds.
I couldn’t take it, but I was also in such a great mood from just getting to hang out at Adelphi Deli. But I couldn’t let my euphoria stop me from at least pointing out this lady’s injustice. So I said to her, calmly, with a smile on my face, “You know, I saw you cut the line.” And she got pissed, real fast. She looked at me with this angry face, the kind of face a teacher gives to a student that talks back in class. The kind of face that says it without saying it, “Shut the hell up! You can’t talk to me!” And then she opened her mouth and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me! I did not cut! How dare you!” and I just stayed calm, the same smile on my face and I said, “Well, I saw you. You cut.” And she threw her hands in the air and put her soup down and said, “Fine you go first!” and then she turned to the counter person and said, “Take care of this guy first! He’s in such a hurry!” So I said, “No, that’s OK. I’m not in a rush. I just wanted to let you know that I saw you cut. You can go ahead of me though.” And she said, “No you go first!” Then I looked at her dead in the eye and said, “I’m not going first. I’m just going to stand here and not even look at the counter person until you go first.”
At that point she took out a wad of cash, threw in down on the counter, took her soup, and harrumphed out of the place. I looked at the counter guy and said, “I’m telling you, she totally cut.” And the counter guy looked at me and said, “I honestly do not care. That was the stupidest interaction I’ve ever had to witness in my life.” And I was thrown off. What? What about line etiquette? What about the honor system? I looked for Jim. We made eye contact. I didn’t have to say a word. Jim went over to the counter guy and fired him on the spot. I’m telling you: Best. Deli. In. The. World. Period.