Editor’s note: Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli was reviewed before restrictions were put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hours and offerings may currently vary.
The funny thing about that debate about patronizing locally owned restaurants versus chains is that many of the chains are owned and operated by local entrepreneurs investing a fortune in a concept. So the actual line of what is locally owned is pretty fuzzy.
For example the Burger Kings, Mountain Mike’s Pizza, Jersey Mike’s Sandwiches and many other “chains” are, indeed, locally owned by people who live among us and have invested their life savings in their businesses. Yard House, Chili’s, Tahoe Joe’s, maybe not, but the employees are almost always living and surviving here in our community. So the drive to support only the local places is a sketchy thing.
And you have a place like Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli in the northwest, located near three completely local powerhouses (Dewar’s, Lengthwise and Athena’s Greek Cafe) that received a new local owner last January and has somehow survived since 2008 despite being in one of the most competitive niches of the restaurant industry: sandwiches (right up there with pizza and burgers). If you visit, you will understand how they do it, with variety, quality of ingredients (reminding me a lot of what Sequoia has tried to do) and a stepped-up experience both in quality and service on actual plates. No $5 foot-longs here. The service issues might make Gordon Ramsay’s head explode, I’m sure, but this is a place trying to go high while the competitors go low to keep prices down, down, down. They have a lot of vegetarian options and are out front on organic foods with no additives or preservatives, even bragging that the smoothies are made only with fruit and apple juice, no added sugar.
For one thing, the menu has a lot of choices: soups, wraps, smoothies, excellent baked-on-the-premises chocolate chip cookies ($1.89, you simply must get one on every visit, and on Tuesdays they’re free with a sandwich), and the breads are fresh-made but with a greater variety than Jersey Mike’s or Subway offers. The menu boards behind the counter can slow down the ordering process, as we had to let some folks behind us who knew what they wanted go ahead of us as we sorted out what we wanted to order.
My companion settled on the BLT with avocado ($9.29) on sourdough (one of eight bread options) while I went for the prime rib sandwich ($12.99) on a French roll with pepper jack cheese (89 cents extra). Everything is made to order and frankly that kind of slows things down. There were three people working behind the counter on our first visit, and one young woman moved on to new customers before completing an order, drawing a rebuke from the woman who looked like the one who had skin in the game on this place.
That sandwich of mine made the delay worth it. How many other sandwich shops serve actual prime rib sandwiches? Usually you have to go to a place like Hungry Hunter to get something like that, and the meat inside was seared and seasoned on the outside and looked and tasted like something done in an upscale kitchen. You can get your bread or bun toasted, which I did, and the cheese with the lettuce, tomato and onion really elevated the selection, but the toasting process seems like a problem for the people behind the counter. Based on what I observed, there’s one small conveyor toaster and it gets busy pretty quickly, sucking up time in the process. Subway’s system is a lot more efficient. Yet, the bread at Heidi’s is superior to the competition and what you order is presented on an actual plate — not fine china but not some paper sheet or a clamshell container either.
My companion’s sandwich had sourdough that was minimally toasted, but the avocado was fresh and the bacon crisp and ultra-smoky, so forgiveness was in the air on that one. Or maybe it was just the other half of the buttery cookie with chocolate chips that were still melted, though the cookie itself, rescued from a shelf near the oven, was not still hot. Did I mention that you should always buy a cookie even if they’re not free as they are on Tuesdays?
We went back for a breakfast burrito and smoothie on another occasion (be warned — Heidi’s is only an early dinner option as they close at 7 p.m. daily). There are eight alluring smoothies, all for $7.49, and we chose the Blueberry Monster (simple: blueberries, bananas, apple juice) and also ordered a breakfast burrito ($7.89), available in three tortillas (original, tomato, avocado) with eggs, cheese, potato chunks and protein choice (bacon, sausage or ham). We chose sausage and appreciated everything being in chunks (potatoes, too). Though my companion thought it was a bit dry from the potatoes, I thought the generous melted cheddar cheese helped. Overall, the quality makes Heidi’s a good breakfast choice.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.