On Mill Avenue, what's old is new again.
It says quite a lot when a restaurant that hasn't been around for a dozen years still resonates with locals. In the little more than a month since Stan's Metro Deli opened in downtown Tempe, I've heard nothing but fond memories of the place from anyone I've mentioned it to. Seems just about anybody who lived in the Valley during Stan's 1990s heyday was a regular at some point.
I hadn't made it to this area by the time Stan's closed its doors in 1998, but it's no wonder that people are so keen on making this New York-style deli a regular hangout again. It's friendly, affordable, and has an enormous menu of salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, and breakfast dishes.
Isn't the diner experience an essential part of college life or, for that matter, urban life in general? The thought of settling into a booth to refuel on a sandwich piled high with pastrami in the middle of a stressful day, of stopping by to meet pals for coffee, of eating breakfast at midnight — it's comforting. It never gets old.
This isn't the original location, of course. The late Stan Stone, a Bronx native who worked at legendary delis in New York and Miami Beach, created the first Stan's Metro Deli in Scottsdale in 1966 and later opened the Tempe Stan's in the space that's now home to Ra Sushi Bar. After a fire in 1990, the restaurant moved yet again, and closed for good six months after Stone sold it to new owners.
Now, his son Keith and business partner Sharon Fenderson are continuing the legacy in a bigger spot nearby, at the corner of Mill and Fourth Street. There's a checkered floor like in the good ol' days, along with new-school amenities like free Wi-Fi and a spacious misted patio. As expected, the place does a brisk lunch business and, better yet, is a major new player in the late-night arena. Can you think of anywhere else to grab a bite up until 2 a.m.? Me neither. What a genius move.
Although there's nothing cutting-edge about the eats, Stan's turns out pretty solid standards, from moist, thin, big-as-your-plate pancakes to honkin' big half-pound burgers, like the bacon, avocado, and cheese-smothered ASU Burger. Side dishes are all about wholesome Americana, including crisp carrot and cabbage coleslaw, potato salad, fries, and picnic-worthy macaroni salad.
I recommend going for the splurges when you're here, because guilty pleasures are what Stan's does best. My "Marge's Fav" Tri-Salad was far too much for a single person to eat, and I liked the scoops of egg salad and tuna salad (oddly, the promised chicken salad wasn't on there), but I'd much rather have them in sandwich form. In my world, tuna goes with rye and melted cheddar much better than sliced white mushrooms, shredded carrot, and lettuce.
Likewise, I preferred breakfast on the lavish side. A friend's egg white omelet, ordered sans cheese, showed up with cheese anyway. (In all fairness, our perky server quickly rectified the situation with another omelet, and later on, a manager came over to apologize and give us a break on the bill. The goodwill gestures were classy.)
The omelet was okay, but I'm more of a Benedict girl. "Minton's" Vallarta Benedict, topped with ham, gooey poached eggs, and mild, tangy, jalapeño-studded Hollandaise, was quite a sight to behold, especially since I ordered it on an onion bagel (a fat, chewy one from New York Bagels 'n Bialys) instead of an English muffin. How in the world did I think I could eat all that? I tried my best, but even three cups of coffee couldn't ward off the food coma.
Among the Jewish deli staples, my favorite was the potato pancake, which smelled incredible, and had an appealing crunch when I cut into its golden exterior with a fork. Inside, it was tender, verging on creamy. Bubby's matzo ball soup, made with Keith Stone's grandmother's original recipe, was another good one, the kind of chicken soup I know I'll be craving more and more as the days get colder. The matzo ball resembled a small grapefruit in size and was fluffy and fragrant inside.
Chopped liver didn't move me, though. There was plenty of fresh rye bread, a handful of chopped raw onion, and some sliced hardboiled egg accompanying it, but when I tasted it plain, I longed for something extra, something luscious: more chicken fat. Yep.
I wasn't big on the grilled chicken sandwich I tried, either. The meat was simply dry and bland, and even the soft bun and naughty toppings — a very good barbecue sauce and some extra-thick onion rings — weren't enough to salvage it.
Ah, what was I thinking, anyway? At a place like this, New York-style sandwiches really are the way to go. For fans of pastrami and corned beef, there are all kinds of variations. Loosen your belts and have a field day.
Even a Reuben isn't just a Reuben here — Stan's has a few. Mine was served on buttery grilled rye and packed two inches thick with thinly sliced corned beef, Swiss, and sauerkraut. Wow. I took one look at it, told myself to eat only half, and basically destroyed the whole thing anyway. This place is dangerous.
Another fabulous find was Don's Delight, a two-handed pastrami sandwich layered on a Kaiser roll with Swiss, tomato, and mayo. The crowning glory was a fried egg on top. On a recent lunch, this was the envy of everyone at my table. It would be hard not to come back for the same exact thing, although there are a lot of other things I'd like to try on the menu here.
Let's hope that Stan's has another good run so I can take my time eating my way though it all.