It’s a cold but sunny, end-of-winter day in early March as I walk down Chapel Hill Street in Durham.
I have trouble finding it at first. But then, across the intersection, I see it — Lucky’s Delicatessen, labelled by its forest green sign with blocky red lettering.
I come in from the cold, and everything falls into place. The weather outside and the slightly industrial (yet still light and airy) decor together complete the illusion that I am standing inside a real New York City deli.
There’s an episode of the New York-set television show “Louie” where the main character goes on a date with a woman in a traditional deli, and the two feast on some of my favorite things: pickles and various types of meat, fish and bread.
Since watching that episode, I’ve always felt the urge to visit somewhere like that. When I recently heard about Lucky’s, which opened last year, I finally had the chance.
I went at around noon on a Friday, and it wasn’t too busy when I arrived, but business started to pick up shortly after I sat down. Be prepared to wait in line for a least a few minutes — more if you come on a Saturday.
The restaurant is open until 8 p.m. during the week but closed on Sunday, so plan accordingly.
I knew before I even left for Durham that I would be ordering the Reuben sandwich with corned beef (pastrami being the other option). I had never had one before, and it seemed to me to be the epitome of a northern deli experience.
The Reuben comes with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, all on toasted rye bread. All sandwiches come with a crunchy pickle spear on the side.
The sandwich was melty and delicious. I appreciated the extra crunch from the toast and tartness from the sauerkraut. I found myself full after eating a little over half, but — full disclosure — I couldn’t stop myself from eating the rest.
I also took the opportunity to order matzo ball soup — a dish I have been fixated on trying for while — for the first time. I was pleased that customers could order soup as a cup, bowl or quart.
I ordered a cup, which included one decently sized matzo ball in a cup of broth. The vegetables in the broth tasted fresh, and the soup had a mild, not-too-salty flavor.
For those looking for lighter, vegetarian fare, I would suggest the beet sandwich, made with roasted beets, ricotta, pickled onion and pistachio pesto on a toasted kaiser roll. If you’re trying to avoid bread, all of the sandwiches can be made into salads at no extra charge.
I’m a sucker for pretty much any beet dish, but I particularly liked the pairing of the beets, ricotta and pesto, which was complementary without being overpowering.
For an alternative to the matzo ball soup, order the sweet potato leek soup. Described as “essential comfort food” on Lucky’s menu, the cup I ordered definitely delivered. The combination of sweet and savory was creamy but still light.
As someone who is used to frequenting Southern restaurants, where a reuben might be placed on the menu under a label reading, “for displaced Northerners,” I am glad to have finally experienced what an authentic deli has to offer.
I plan to return to try the BLT, which was recommended to me by one patron, as well as the tuna melt and roast turkey sandwich. If I’m feeling a little more adventurous, I might sample some of the smoked and cured fish or take a chance on the chopped liver sandwich. But until then, I would encourage readers to go in my place.
Address: 105 W. CHAPEL HILL STREET
DURHAM, N. CAROLINA 27701
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.