THE PLACE: Rubicon Deli is nestled behind St. James Infirmary on California Avenue. This is a fun, vibrant area of downtown, and in the summer — or during the warm spells of spring — it’s lovely to grab a bite on the patio.
THE LOOK: There isn’t a whole lot of seating either inside or out, but I imagine the place does brisk take-out business. The restaurant’s interior features sage walls and framed photographs. Order at the counter, and the food arrives quickly — in eight minutes during a recent visit.
THE MEAL: In an effort to be healthy, I order the Whales Veg sandwich — a whole one for me since I’m skipping soup and chips to spend less than $10. The sandwich comes in at $9.49 and is plenty generous for lunch.
It features choice of bread (I choose whole wheat), spinach, shredded cabbage, carrots, red bell pepper, parsley, Monterey Jack cheese, avocado, tomato, red onion, pickle, pepperoncini, hummus, Herb of the Valley mustard, oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper.
The menu says you can add portobello mushrooms for $2.25, but the restaurant doesn’t have them that day, so I go without.
The sandwich is stuffed with the vegetables, and the hummus, cheese and avocado add rich savoriness. Beforehand, I think some of the ingredients, especially cabbage, will be a little off, but they’re not. Everything coheres into a satisfying vegetarian sandwich.
My husband, on the other hand, goes for the less-healthful half-pound Dom Pastram, a sandwich stuffed with layers — and a half a pound! — of hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, pickle, onion and yellow mustard. He chooses the cheddar bread, fluffy and soft.
This sandwich is the opposite of the veggie — it’s stuffed with warm, rich pastrami and melted cheese. The sauerkraut and pickle balance the meaty richness, and the pillowy bread holds everything together. If the veggie weren’t so good, I might have regretted my order after tasting this sandwich.
KUDOS: Service is quick during a weekday lunch, which is perfect for diners ducking out of work for an hour. I make it to and from the restaurant and have lunch all within an hour. Ordering at the counter is no frills, but the counter server is friendly and efficient.
Sandwiches also can be built “naked” without the bread or “scooped” with the bread hollowed out.
QUIBBLES: The only thing I don’t like is that Rubicon Deli isn’t open for dinner. But it is open on Sunday, and not just for brunch, which makes it a great place to stop by when you’re looking for fare that’s not laden with eggs.
ALTERNATIVES: I’d like to build my own sandwich one day.
I also want to try the Rubicon Special, built with turkey, smoked Gouda, roasted red peppers, pesto mayonnaise and lettuce, and the Stallion, made with salami, ham, prosciutto, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, and mayonnaise and mustard.
RETURN TRIP?: Definitely. Rubicon’s housemade breads are a huge draw, and the mustards are delicious. The veggie sandwich has a way of making you feel virtuous despite the bread, and there are too many other good offerings on the menu to resist yeasty temptation for long.