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June 4, 2013

Alice Eats: Noonie Deli

IMG_56861 Marketplace, Unit 10, Essex, 871-5975

The story of Noonie Deli is long and winding. Jennifer Silpe and Blue Paddle Bistro's Mandy Hotchkiss started it as a cart on Burlington's Church Street in 1986, and the mobile operation soon ballooned to nine fixed locations across Vermont.

But soon, almost all of them were gone. Bryan and Jenny Phelps purchased the final, Middlebury link in the chain in 2010. And years after the business shrank, the young new owners began to grow it.

Earlier this spring, they opened a second Noonie, in the red mall in Essex. And this weekend, I finally tried my first bites of the legendary sandwiches.

IMG_5687Only one employee was working the counter on Saturday evening, and it took her a surprisingly long time to make the simple sandwiches and salad — she slowly referred to the menu behind her to make sure she didn't miss any ingredients. But the results were pretty darn attractive. At right is the Vermonter.

All of the bread at the store comes daily from Baker's Dozen across the street. I was excited to try the "crusty roll," hoping it would be akin to the New York-area hard rolls I simply can't find around here. Nope. It was actually just a very pretty burger bun. "Crusty" definitely didn't describe the fluffy roll.

IMG_5689I was a little disappointed to see the cheese melted over the ham and apples in a microwave, then placed on the bun. The result reminded me of microwaved Oscar Mayer sandwiches I ate as a kid. That said, the ham was very good, with a nice caramelized crust. But the best part of the sandwich was the honey mustard, a lovely blend of spicy and sweet. Too bad the mushy apples and mild cheddar didn't add more to the sandwich.

Still, it was a far better combination than the Sweet on Relay (right), a sandwich that benefits Relay for Life with each purchase.

I loved the fluffy honey-oat bread, but the combination of lettuce, acidic tomatoes and sugary caramelized onions hit a sour note, not a sweet one. Part of the problem could have been that the store was out of the apricot jam that usually appears on the sandwich — I asked for cranberry sauce to replace it — but I suspect that might have only made it worse. It's too bad — the individual ingredients, including a thick wad of turkey and fresh vegetables, were of high quality.

IMG_5690Luckily, I did try one combination that hit just the right spots.

It was a salad special, but hopefully it will find a place on the regular menu. A lovely base of crisp mesclun mix played host to chewy dried cherries, crumbles of creamy goat cheese and crunchy almonds. The sliced chicken breast on top was nicely cooked and of high quality — none of the fluffy texture of cheap meat that I might expect to find at deli prices.

And on the side, a viscous, homemade balsamic vinaigrette was full of sweet-tart flavor and coated the lettuce leaves admirably.

If I had made a meal of just that salad, I would have been very happy. I'll have to keep in mind that the healthy choice can be the tastiest one.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected].

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