Cindy and I were driving through the Des Moines area in the middle part of the day not long ago when I suggested we stop somewhere for a quick lunch. She asked me what I had in mind and I immediately said, "I was thinking of stopping out at Palmer's Deli in West Des Moines." She told me that I read her mind. We hopped off Interstate 80/35 at the University Ave. exit and made our way to Palmer's.
Palmer's is one my favorite deli's in the Midwest and I had written about it about seven years ago in a small post on Road Tips before the blog found its compass and voice. This time, I can do a much better job than saying, "It's a good deli. Go eat there."
Palmer's Deli began in 1989 when Gayle and Carol Palmer added sandwiches and salads to the menu of their small ice cream parlor in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale. The Palmer's immediately garnered a following for their great sandwiches, fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch desserts. They found they had to double the size of their location in Urbandale to handle the business.
The Palmer's son, Joe, and his wife, Margaret, saw a need for a Palmer's location in West Des Moines. The younger Palmer opened that location in 1995 and they have had to expand that location three times since, more than doubling the original floor space. The Palmer's opened a third location in downtown Des Moines in the sky walk at Kaleidoscope Mall in 2002, a fourth location opened on Ingersoll Ave. in Des Moines in 2004, and a fifth location opened six years ago in the northern Des Moines suburb of Ankeny.
It was around 12:30 when we pulled into the Palmer's Deli location just north of the corner of Westown Parkway and 50th Street in West Des Moines. (see map) Predictably, the parking lot was full and we had to maneuver around to find a spot on the far end of the strip mall. Walking in, there was a line to order at the front counter. I was looking to get a sandwich while Cindy decided she wanted to get a salad.
I stood in line for a sandwich, having time to look over the menu on a chalkboard behind the counter. I was sort of hungry for a good ol' pastrami and Swiss on pumpernickel rye. But they had a board with the day's specials just as you walked in and they were featuring an Italian-style sandwich that had capicola, salami, pepperoni, ham and provolone cheese with lettuce and tomatoes on a hoagie bun. That got my attention for a moment. But I ended up getting the pastrami and Swiss on rye.
Cindy stood in a line to my right to order up a salad. My line had moved pretty quickly - they had four people taking orders and making sandwiches - and she was still waiting to order her salad. She finally got to the head of the line and she ordered the Greek salad - romaine lettuce mixed with chopped kalamata olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, then topped with Palmer's housemade Greek dressing.
While Cindy waited for her salad to be made, I got in line for some pasta salad. Below left is the line for not only the pasta and potato salads, but for the cash register, as well. For as busy as Palmer's was during the lunch rush, the wait was far from excruciating.
Above right is a picture of the deli case at Palmer's that features their made-fresh-daily pasta salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, and meat salads such as chicken, ham, tuna and turkey salads. Various sizes of containers are available and Palmer's does a pretty brisk "to-go" business from their deli case.
I ended up ordering a small container - about 4 ounces - of the tri-color cheese tortellini pasta salad. Cindy met up with me at that point with her salad and we waited in line to pay at the register. I got a bottle of water and Cindy got some tea. As I was getting ready to pay, Cindy spied a chocolate-frosted brownie bar on the counter next to the register. She couldn't help herself and had to get one. I certainly didn't protest.
The one thing about Palmer's Deli is that it can get a little pricey when you load up on sides and desserts. Our order came to $22 bucks - that's a little too much if you eat there on a regular basis. But since we only get to Palmer's once a year - at most - I didn't have any problem paying the bill.
We found a seat in the dining area that had been packed about 15 minutes prior. Getting to the end of the lunch rush, parked ourselves at a four-seat table and were able to spread out a bit for our lunch.
My pastrami on rye was served cold - I could have gotten the meat steamed, but I decided not to on this trip. A thick slice of Swiss cheese was on top of a heaping amount of fresh and flavorful pastrami. You don't get cheated with the amount of meat they put on a sandwich at Palmer's. I got some yellow mustard to go on the sandwich and a dill pickle spear was included on the side.
The bread at Palmer's Deli is made fresh daily by their Breadworks operation - their locally-based bakery that turns out fresh bread, desserts and salads on a daily basis for the five Palmer's locations. I will have to say, however, that I thought my pumpernickel rye bread was a little dried out from what I tasted. Still, it was far from deal breaker for another good sandwich at Palmer's.
Cindy's Greek salad was the smaller of the two sizes available at Palmer's. And it was a lot of romaine lettuce doused with a liberal amount of the housemade Greek dressing. A potato bun came on the side with her salad. She said the romaine lettuce was very fresh and the salad had a great flavor. We traded bites - she liked my pastrami sandwich, but was happy she got the salad. And I enjoyed the taste of the dressing and especially the kalamata olives that were chopped up in her lettuce.
But the highlight of the meal was the chocolate-frosted brownie that we split. Oh, my God! The chocolate frosting was so thick and sweet that it literally stuck to the roof of our mouths. Cindy said it was too rich for her and she wouldn't have been able to eat the whole thing or she would have gone into a sugar coma. It was a decadent ending to our lunch.
The one thing I've found about Palmer's Deli over the years of going to either their Urbandale or West Des Moines locations is their consistency in quality and taste. I've never been disappointed with any of the sandwiches I've gotten - even though I did have a small quibble with the dryness of their pumpernickel rye on this visit. But if that's the only thing I have to complain about after eating at Palmer's for over 20 years, they're doing something pretty good. As I said, Palmer's is one of my favorite deli's in the Midwest and they do a fine job.