RETRO DINING: NIELSEN’S DELICATESSEN

Nielsen’s Delicatessen, located at 4500 Richmond, has been in operation since 1952.    The restaurant was founded by Danish immigrants Ellen Nielsen Andersen and her husband Dick Andersen.  The shotgun-like structure sports a red roof, which makes it easy to spot:

Inside the narrow space is a row of vinyl-covered stools for counter dining on one side, and a deli counter on the other.

The restaurant’s minimalist “decor” (if you can call it that) is Danish, with sun-faded posters of Denmark and Danish royalty, as well as a few Danish characters:

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Get in line, and peruse the menu:

If there’s one thing that characterizes Nielsen’s Delicatessen, it is its legendary mayonnaise, copious amounts of which are used in most of the restaurant’s offerings.  In fact, hanging on the wall is a 1990 letter from Gourmet magazine, advising that they received an “enthusiastic letter” from a patron who “particularly admired the potato salad,” and asking for the recipe for Nielsen’s potato salad, the key to which is the mayonnaise:

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The mayonnaise is house-made daily, and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.  It’s snowy and silky, unrelated to the stuff in the jar.  Some have suggested it has a hint of onion or celery.  Don’t ask questions, don’t think about the calories, just experience it.  Consider taking a pint home with you.

One of the popular items featuring the famous mayonnaise is deviled eggs.  Although they make about 120 eggs daily, If you want one, you’ll need to get there fairly early, as they usually run out around 1 p.m.

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Sandwiches, especially turkey sandwiches, are another popular item.  The restaurant takes pride in the fact that it roasts its turkey breasts daily.  The sandwiches, on your choice of wheat or white, sport a generous schmear of a spread made with–you guessed it–mayonnaise and mustard on both the top and bottom slices of bread.  People go crazy over this spread.  One time, a young lady in front of me ordered her sandwich and asked for “lots of spread.”  The employee nodded his understanding of her request, but the lady went on:  “No, I mean like a LOT of spread.  Like, a TON of spread.  Like, an EMBARASSING amount of spread.”  I don’t know why she didn’t just buy a jar and get a room.

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Get a small cup of potato salad or cole slaw to go with your sandwich, and really have yourself a party:

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Feeling especially hungry?  Order yourself a box lunch, which I refer to as the 50 Shades of White Box Lunch:

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Inside the plain white box, are a number of items neatly wrapped in white paper:

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The lunch consists of a turkey sandwich on white, a half a cheese sandwich on white, a cup of potato salad, two pickle spears, and two brownies, and makes a perfect picnic lunch for sharing:

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So what’s the secret to Nielsen’s Delicatessen’s longevity?  The answer is obvious — freshly-made sandwiches and salads, and mayonnaise.  Lots of mayonnaise.  A ton of mayonnaise.  An embarrassing amount of mayonnaise.  😉

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THIEN AN

Last year I wrote about my two favorite Vietnamese restaurants for pho and banh mi sandwiches–Paris Café Sandwich Shop and Pho Saigon.  Although I still love these two places, in fairness, I have to admit that lately I have been going to Thien An at least once a week for my Vietnamese fix.

Thien An is located in Midtown at 2611 San Jacinto, in a newly-constructed building:

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Inside, the bustling restaurant is spacious and bright, with ample parking (which can be a rarity in Midtown):

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The pho is clean and fresh-tasting, not oily like some others I’ve had.  The flavorful broth is not as dark and complex as that at Pho Saigon, but is extremely satisfying in its own right.  The soup is accompanied by a generous plate of herbs, limes, bean sprouts, and jalapenos.  There’s the usual list of meats, chicken, and shrimp that you can choose to add to your pho, although I usually opt for tofu.  As at most places I’ve been to, the small bowl is ample.

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The banh mi sandwich, at $3.25, is a great bargain.  My favorite is the shredded chicken, which consists of mostly white meat chicken, with lots of crisp veggies piled on top.

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After ogling the monster-sized banh xeo crepes being whisked past our table, I finally tried one.  The crepe is made with coconut milk, which gives it a faint sweetness, and bulges with its stuffing of pork, shrimp, onions, and bean sprouts.  It’s accompanied by a plate of herbs and vegetables, and dipping sauce.  To eat it, you tear off a piece of the crepe, fold some of the herbs and vegetables inside, and dip it in the sauce (at least I think this is how you eat it — it didn’t come with a tutorial).  This is a fun dish, meant for sharing.  I almost wish we hadn’t tried it, because it was already hard enough to choose between the pho and banh mi.

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The lightening-speed service at Thien An (on most occasions) makes it a good place for lunch during the work week.  Although there’s table service, you’ll need to queue up and pay at the counter.

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See those two plastic bags in front of the register?  While you’re paying, treat yourself to a bag of delicate, crunchy, beautiful lotus blossom cookies.  You know, for later:

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I’m fascinated by these cookies, which never last long in my house.  They’re fried, using an intricate mold:

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You can get one of your own molds at Amazon

OK, I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours — where’s your favorite Vietnamese restaurant?

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