Opening day for downtown deli
It’s opening day at the Metro Gourmet Market, the newest sandwich shop on Elm Street and the latest business to attempt to sate the palates and tastes of downtown Greensboro’s burgeoning urban residents. Owner Noah Burgess bounces all over the store, bussing tables, taking orders behind the counter, checking on customers and accepting handshakes and congratulations on his first day of business. His wife Kelly weaves between the green-topped tables with their four-month-old baby girl, Sophie, papoosed to her midsection in a snuggler while she fills water glasses from a pitcher she carries in her hand. Employees clad in black run sandwiches, salads and hot entrees to waiting customers and the cash register up front goes ding ding ding.
‘“My stress level?’” Noah says. ‘“My stress level is about a five. Not too bad.’”
He’s no stranger to the business. He’s an accomplished chef who most recently did his thing for the Painted Plate catering company. For this enterprise he’s styled the menu for the new downtown denizens, using high-end ingredients like Boar’s Head meats and thick slices of good cheese on the sandwiches and lettuces that make a mockery of the everyday iceberg. He’s also begun to stock the shelves with gourmet products: oils and vinegars, salad dressings, cookies and candies, spices, olives and pickles, butters and jams, crackers, dips and seven kinds of mustard. A well-stocked wine rack boasts a fine selection of the vintner’s art and the coolers brim with exotic soft drinks like Ting and Dr. Brown’s, beer labels both mainstream and obscure, Champagne splits and the fanciest bottled water I have ever seen.
The tables are fairly full on the day of this soft opening ‘— business types and blue collar workers, boho hipsters and people of leisure like the table of lunch ladies nibbling salads in the corner. There are five salads on the menu, from the basic chef and Greek to a fancier veggie lover’s plate with artichoke hearts and roasted vegetables. The sandwich fare consists of 23 items, all named for different parts of the city. The Fisher Park has grilled chicken graced with feta cheese and hummus and dressed with black olives, lemon juice, cucumber and lettuce served inside pita bread. The Brassfield is based on turkey and havarti with baby greens and pesto mayonnaise. The Westerwood places rare roast beef and provolone on a Kaiser roll with a generous dollop of horseradish. They also serve a burger (the College Hill) and chili slaw dogs (the Grasshopper). Hot entrees are all Italian ‘— chicken or meatball parmesan subs, spaghetti and lasagne ‘— each made with a tomato sauce the recipe for which is a family heirloom. They call it ‘Carmella’s Potion’ and it is available for purchase by the pint or the quart.
The food is decidedly healthy here. Sandwiches come with carrot and celery sticks in lieu of fries or chips and the slaw, one of three available sides, they call ‘health slaw,’ because it is oil-based and contains no mayo.
‘“It’s like country cole slaw,’” Noah says before running back to the kitchen to check on something or other.
You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the quality of their sides, the theory being that if the proprietors care enough to instill excellence in their ancillary dishes, then the main event must really be something special. The Metro does not disappoint ‘— the pesto pasta salad, made with fresh basil and peas, and the red potato salad, laced with stone ground mustard, are both excellent variations on their respective themes.
You cannot, however, tell much about a restaurant on its opening day, save for a few glimpses of what it might become as it eases into its niche. The menu will morph and change according to the whims and tastes of the downtown crowd. They’ve left space on the shelves and in the coolers, to be filled with customer requests, and signs posted everywhere encourage their patrons to voice their preferences.
Right now the Burgesses and staff seem to be on solid ground. The territory may be largely uncharted, but they’re comfortable with the vehicle.
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