FIRST WILL LAST
First Carolina Deli is going strong on Spring Garden Street
“Have you seen the Bugs Bunny episode where he refuses to move, so they build the city around him? That’s how I feel.”
This is what co-owner Dean Vial explained to me after I asked how Greensboro had changed since First Carolina Delicatessen opened in the summer of ’86. A sister company of Lox Stock & Bagel, First Carolina Deli has been going strong for nearly thirty years and still stands proudly as an institution on Spring Garden Street just next to UNCG.
John Meyler, the owner of First Carolina Delicatessen alongside Dean Vial, is a New Jersey man born and raised, and his upbringing sparked the Deli’s original menu that has hardly changed in the past 28 years. In fact, one of the original menus still hangs proudly on display within the establishment as a testament to the restaurant’s stability. Where thousands of restaurants have come and gone throughout Greensboro’s history, First Carolina Delicatessen still remains. And for good reason.
On the outside, the deli certainly doesn’t look like much, but those fortunate enough to have taken the chance to walk through those doors will come to realize that it’s what’s inside that counts, much like receiving a gift you’ve always wanted, but having it gifted to you in a cardboard box.
The atmosphere inside, however, is anything but boring.
The doors open up to a dimly lit, cozy, and inviting establishment with memorabilia displayed prominently along the walls that catalogue some of the restaurant’s history. Not to mention the warming, welcoming staff that met me upon entry that acted as a wellspring of knowledge about First Carolina’s roots. What struck me most was the crowd, however. Even an hour past the lunch rush, First Carolina was packed with voracious patrons looking to get their fix of pastrami, which is provided exclusively from Boar’s Head, along with all their other various meats.
My choice of sandwich for the meal was an easy pick:
The Italian Sailor. Toasted Jewish rye with fatty pastrami, pepperoni, melted Swiss cheese, and Dusseldorf mustard, all collected together for a true New Jersey experience. Immediately after biting into it I had forgotten I was there to write a story at all, instead I found myself transported to a world where only the sandwich and myself existed. And what a blissful world it was. I damn near ate the toothpick that was holding it all together, too.
Their claims of fresh meats and cheese did not go without merit, as the gently toasted rye was barely able to contain the excess juices that flowed free with every bite. A feeling of remorse found me as I came upon the final bite. It felt wrong to bring about the end of such a characteristic sandwich. But all good things must pass. Sorry little buddy.
“Society has changed,” Vial said to me after I had complimented him on the meal, “b ut we’ve stayed the same.” Looking around I saw all walks of life sitting within the restaurant, from college kids to older, southern women, and it occurred to me that we all have one thing in common. A simple theme of unity that has kept this restaurant running longer than so many others that have risen and fallen on these same streets. It’s that we all love a damn good sandwich. And First Carolina Delicatessen is happy to give that to you. !
First Carolina Delicatessen is located at 1635 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC, 27407. They can be reached at 336-273-5564 and are open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.