Strolling down a post-Ferragasto Arthur Avenue, I found myself in need of a morning pick me up. While others elect for coffee at one of the 'hoods many local pastry shops, I was in search of something more substantial. Not sugar, but a pile of cured meat. So I snuck into the once-great Retail Market, past the still-opening Cigar Shop and over to Mike's Deli of Throwdown fame. Perusing the menu, I couldn't help but think of how Bobby Flay—and, more importantly, Mike's—would fare against their new-school brethren at Torrisi.
One thing you can say Mike's has going for them is an enormous variety of sandwiches, clocking in at over 50. A promising one, the King David, advertised soppresata with "chunks of Parmesan," roasted red bell peppers peppers, and basil. My order provoked a timid acknowledgement of approval: "That's a big breakfast. It's a good way to start the week."
But I would have liked a little (or, truthfully, a lot) more in the way of basil, here in the form of a frugally applied dollop of pesto. That's a single dollop for each half of the sandwich, no more than a teaspoon or so, and it can vanish in a single bite. And if you're going to limit me to a dollop, please don't scrimp on the quality. Unfortunately, this was far from the most flavorful pesto my taste buds had come across.
Some more delicacy, too, wouldn't have hurt. Okay, I know there's nothing "delicate" about Italian-American sandwiches (words that come to mind: hefty, gargantuan, gut-buster, ... you get the picture) but what are they getting at with those chunks of Parmesan? I'm all for bold favors, but the application here veered very far in an unpleasant direction, especially problematic as the thinly cut sopressata didn't really add much in the way of flavor. Considering the nearby presence of the venerable Calabria, I don't think this is excusable. But what was my biggest problem with the sandwich? The bread, as it so often is in on 187th, was stale and devoid of any good chew.
Alright, truth be told, I've been down on Arthur Avenue for a while now. But don't get me wrong. There are a few gems up there hidden among the spread of tourist traps and bakeries specializing in stale confections, but by and large I think the neighborhood has failed to keep up with the times. The kitsch is endearing, but the stale bread and pastries are anything but. And I know a lot of people love Mike's, so what gives? Has Mike's, like the Retail Market itself, seen better days? Or am I just a jaded eater?
2344 Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10458 (map)