Winnetka, Community

A first look at Mensch’s Deli — a new Evanston spot from three New Trier grads

(Editor’s Note: This story was reported by Julie Chernoff and originally published in the Evanston Roundtable, a neighboring independent newsroom. It was shared with The Record as part of an ongoing collaborative effort.)

Let the people rejoice: Mensch’s Deli is finally open.

Talk about anticipation! Ever since last year’s bagel sandwich pop-ups at sister restaurant Picnic – and of course, RoundTable reporter Les Jacobson’s article touting the imminent opening – the town has been abuzz that Evanston was getting an honest-to-goodness deli.

Storefront of Mensch’s Delicatessen at 1608 Chicago Ave.

After long months of permitting, demolition, and rebuilding, that deli has arrived. Taking up residence in the newly renovated Golden Olympic space on Chicago Avenue. Mensch’s Delicatessen opened quietly on July 2 with the official opening July 3.

Co-owners Jack DeMar, Kiki Eliopoulos, and Eric Kogan graduated together from New Trier High School in 2012 and have long dreamed of opening this restaurant together. Many ERT readers are already familiar with local restaurateur DeMar, who also owns the popular (and nearby) Pono Ono and Picnic restaurants.

The brand spanking new Mensch’s Deli offers both full-service table seating as well as a deli counter for pre-order and pickup. Either way, you can order off the full menu, and once they’re really up and running, you’ll be able to order party trays for home entertaining.

Old-timey family photos line the tile wall at Mensch’s Deli.

When you enter through the glass doors, you can either head straight for the order/pickup counter, or head left to be seated in the dining room. The welcoming space is much lighter and brighter than you may remember from its Golden Olympic days. The walls are freshly painted white and tiled in white, pale yellow and ochre. The ceiling is bright white, and light pours in through the floor-to-ceiling storefront windows that face Chicago Avenue. Comfy booths line the south wall, and the rest of the dining room space is filled with two- and four-top classic diner tables that can be pushed together for larger parties. Black-and-white family photos line the south wall, and the rectangular support posts that intersperse the space are covered in whimsical flowered wallpaper.

Waiting for your sandwich orders at Mensch’s Deli.

The staff is uniformly friendly, from the front door greeting to the servers and busers. Water is continually refilled with a smile. It can get a little noisy with all the hard surfaces and a big, excited crowd, but I had no trouble conversing with my tablemate while sitting at a booth on opening morning, nor when seated at a two-top in the middle of the dining room at the height of service at noon. (Yes, I’ve already been twice in three days, but I was on assignment … plus I absolutely love deli, the comfort food of my youth.)

Mensch’s culinary team has made some astute choices right out of the gate. The bagels are brought in daily from New York Bagel & Bialy, the lox from Brooklyn’s justly celebrated ACME Smoked Fish. Breads – challah, rye, pumpernickel, and rolls – are from 2 Figs Baking Co., a wholesale bakery in Franklin Park.

Not everything has been outsourced. As a matter of fact, much is made in-house, including some of the pickles, and in a few weeks, you’ll be able to enjoy some of Mensch’s homemade breakfast pastries and sweets, which will be baked in-house by Eliopoulos herself. Personally, I can’t wait to sample the chocolate Babka, cinnamon crumb coffee cake and seasonal fruit turnovers.

As far as what the menu holds, it’s full of immediately craveable items. The potato latkes are homemade and fried to order. They are thin, crispy and delectable, and served with the classic sour cream and apple sauce accompaniments. The Salami Scramble was eggy perfection – three softly scrambled eggs with beautifully caramelized onions and slivers of kosher salami, served with a side of rye toast.

Order an open-faced bagel sandwich to share; they are generously portioned and easily splittable. We loved “The Fixins,” which is loaded with nova lox, scallion cream cheese, thin slices of tomato and red onion, capers and chopped chives.

The Matzo ball soup is another winner, the broth redolent of roasted chicken and the fluffy, well-seasoned matzo ball chockful of chopped parsley. And just the very fact that a “Pickle Plate” exists here makes me so happy (plus, it has two types of dill pickles AND those house-made pickled green tomatoes).

The need for a deli in Downtown Evanston (or anywhere in Evanston, to be fair) was made evident by the crowds on opening day. In fact, the deli ended up closing earlier than planned because it ran out of some essentials needed to keep things going.

“We never expected to get this kind of reception for the opening,” said Kogan. “But we’re thrilled. And we’ll be ready again tomorrow!”

Mensch’s Delicatessen, 1608 Chicago Ave., (847) 859-6153, open daily 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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