I promised I'd give my sister-in-law, Becky, a "shout-out" for suggesting the Blues City Deli in St. Louis if it were good. She said, "Oh, goody! Well, I know you'll like it, so I'll be looking for my name in your blog."
She also told me that she couldn't believe I'd A) never been there before; and B) that I'd never even heard of Blues City Deli before. She said, "Good God, you'll love the place. It's got all these old time posters and pictures of old blues performers all over the wall. And they've got those muffuletta sandwiches that you like so much. You've got to go there and let me know what you think."
BluesCity Deli gets its name as sort of a homage to the blues music tradition and history in the St. Louis area. But the food on the menu at Blues City Deli also pays tribute to other blues hot spots such as Memphis and New Orleans. Not only is owner Vince Valenza a student of blues music, he is also a musician (drummer) who has played blues and roots music for a number of years. Blues City Deli features live blues music twice a week on Thursday evenings and on Saturday afternoons. Sometimes, you'll find Vince Valenza back on the drums playing with the blues artists that show up.
Valenza opened Blues City Deli in 2004 with little culinary education. He knew over 20 years ago that he'd love to open a restaurant, but didn't know the first thing about running one. A friend of his ran an Italian restaurant on the north side of St. Louis and Valenza asked him if he could come to work part time to learn the restaurant business. Valenza did everything - bussed tables, washed dishes, waited on the tables, worked on the prep tables, purchased food, whatever it took for him to learn the business.
While on a business trip to New Orleans, Valenza saw that the music scene and food were bonded together. That's when he first realized the concept that would one day become Blues City Deli. Valenza's dream became reality when he opened on November 6, 2004. Since then, he's garnered a loyal following of municipal, professional and blue collar workers who flock to his little deli during lunch.
Blues City Deli is located south and west of the downtown St. Louis area in the Benton Park neighborhood, not far from Soulard and the Anheuser-Busch brewery (see map). It has limited hours, primarily opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 4 p.m., except on Thursdays when it closes at 8 p.m. I believe he may stay open later through the week during the summer months.
It was about 11:30 a.m. when I made my way to Blues City Deli. I was warned that a line forms early and that a 15 to 20 minute wait is normal during the lunch rush. Lines snaking out the door are common. I was able to find a parking spot on the street, just in front of a St. Louis Fire Department truck where a battalion of firefighters were picking up a bunch of sandwiches to go. A short line had formed inside the very small deli and by the time I'd ordered and gotten my food, it had grown to 20 people deep.
Standing at the counter was Vince Valenza, always adorned with his bowler/fedora style hat. Vince is known to chat up the customers, make suggestions to add to their sandwiches and to talk about some of the memorabilia that he has on his walls. And Becky was right - the old posters, pictures and other memorabilia was pretty interesting. I found myself being surprised or amazed at some of what was on the wall. It was sort of like Vince had his own museum inside the deli.
The menu board is located on the wall behind the small counter. There's a number of people feverishly working in the kitchen area making up sandwiches and salads. It's what I would call organized chaos going on behind Vince Valenza as he took the orders.
Even though there were a number of delectable and intriguing sandwiches to choose from, I'd already had my heart set on the muffuletta sandwich. The "Valenza Special" muffuletta is an 8" sandwich with Genoa salami, ham, mortadella, provolone and mozzarella cheese, topped with Blue City Deli's own olive salad spread and then placed on fresh baked round Italian bread. A whole one would have been way too much for me, so I ordered a half from Vince. I got a bottle of water from the cooler by the counter to go with the sandwich. All together, the bill came to under $9.00 bucks. Vince game me a number tag to hold on to so they'd be able to identify me when my sandwich was ready.
While I waited for the sandwich, I took a look around at all the posters and pictures on the wall. It was sort of tough to get close to some of the pictures and a lot of tables and chairs - quickly filling up with people - were jammed into the small space Blues City Deli occupies. I made the conscious decision to come back some time, preferably in the middle of the afternoon, to be able to look more closely at the memorabilia and hopefully it wouldn't be as busy. That way I'd be able to ask Vince about some of the things that he had and the stories behind them.
One of the workers came out with my sandwich and handed it to me. I weaseled my way out the door, past the ever growing line of people standing in wait. I found a table out on the sidewalk and took a seat.
It's been years since I had what I would call an authentic muffuletta sandwich. And that was at the "home" of muffuletta's - the Central Grocery in New Orleans. I've had a number of muffuletta's since then, but none of them ever came close to the one I had at Central Grocery. Until now. The muffuletta at Blues City Deli was very good. Sometimes, the bread is too doughy and hard in other muffulettas I've had and it detracts from the taste of the meats, cheeses and olive spread. The muffuletta bread at Blues City Deli was chewy, yet light. The toppings of meat and cheese were plentiful. But what made the sandwich was the homemade olive salad spread. The olives were very fresh, it was good and oily, and there was plenty of it on the muffaletta. It may have been the best muffuletta I've had since my first one in New Orleans all those years ago.
A half muffuletta at Blue City Deli was still too much for me. Actually, one of the quarters of a regular muffuletta would have been enough for me. I was able to eat one, eat part of another and then call it a day. Since I was traveling I didn't have a way to store the muffuletta, and there was such a long line of customers stretching out the door and down the sidewalk that I didn't want to go back in, butt in line and ask for a container.
Since my first visit to Blues City Deli, I've been in St. Louis a couple more times this summer. Both times, I found myself near Blues City Deli during the lunch hour. And when I pulled up in front, there was a line that was probably 25 to 30 people deep stretching out the door, down the sidewalk and down the side of the building. I didn't have time to stop and wait that long for a sandwich. Although, it was certainly tempting.
So, yes, Becky. It was good. Very good. And I loved the stuff on the walls. Thanks for the tip. I can't wait to get back to Blues City Deli to try one of their other sandwiches and to take a closer look at the stuff Vince has on the wall. But I'm going to wait until after 2 p.m. to do so.