Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Lucky Dill Deli - An Early Dinner, Palm Harbor, FL

The Sandwich That Ate Brooklyn INDEED!

With several cases put under wraps and a new docket of intrigue from Scotland Yard rumored to be coming in short order, Watson and I ambled over to one of our stalwart favorites: The Lucky Dill Deli of Palm Harbor, which we have been frequenting now for all the 20+ years since we retired here from London oh so long ago.

 The discovery of The Lucky Dill was quite unremarkable at first when we chanced upon it with our first visit to the tiniest sliver of a Grille in the early 1890's, it then being housed in a then robust Alderman Plaza in Palm Harbor. What with it's 12 tiny matchbox-sized tables and the few roomier booths in back (all of which seemed to have come delivered to The Dill pre-built with satisfied patrons already in them for they never, ever seemed to be empty and the sidewalk outside perpetually festooned with more!) it very well may have been this very establishment that led my compatriot of conviviality Mr. Yogi Berra to exclaim "No one ever goes to that restaurant anymore, it's too crowded!" Indeed!

 Soon enough an expansion appeared to be in order and Dill ownership espied a new location on Alternate 19 and Alderman Rd., which more than doubled their space and seating (taking over from a Cafe Alfresco, which in turn took over from a great VHS Rental shoppe where Watson and I would rent old Benny Hill and Monty Python episodes! Oh, that Benny Hill was such a timorous poltroon!) 

Yet despite the doubling of their space, crowds at the Dill continued to come.....30-45 minute waits at peak times were not unheard of. Old women in walkers, old men in loud pants, the large and rotund, the small and petite, dogs, cats, even the occasional Blue Heron, ALL anxious to participate in the newly appointed Dill digs. And still it was not enough! For it was and always has been about the FOOD served here at the Dill. The Food , Watson, THAT'S the CLUE! The menu was far ranging from Soup and Salads to Sandwiches and Burgers.... but it was food served in such dizzying proportions that like cat nip to a feline it drew patrons from far and wide.....and from far and wide did they come!

 Then, when the shopping center behind them completely disappeared one night and construction began on a new enterprise, The Lucky Dill survived and even thrived in spite of the sudden sectioning off and fencing of the parking lot by construction crews. So with golf cart service to the front door, TLDD continued to fight and prosper but quickly realized: This is STILL not enough room!

 What drew my keen eye however was the seeming disregard for profits for as any good proprietor knows it is profit that drives a business and allows any businessman to stay in business let alone grow an enterprise. Yet The Dill's lack of focus ON these profits by serving such obscenely large portions and ubiquitous side dishes and accompaniments that I needed to get to the bottom of this. Little did I know that this speculative endeavor would last over 20 years of investigation.

 Thus despite my keen gaze and intensive investigation, and with an eye for even more space, The Lucky Dill began renovating a snakebit restaurant spot on the west side of US 19 just north of Tampa Rd. and with this choice I thought for CERTAIN they had finally met their match! It would simply be a matter of time in my humble yet learned opinion that they would be calling themselves 'The UNLucky Dill Deli! Formerly the Italian "Jonny Primo's" which was formerly "Johnny Garlic's" which was formerly "Angelino's" which was formerly "Chateau France" which was....and that was formerly...etc.. The initial feeling was that the Dills' proprietors had finally bitten off more of a sandwich than they could chew for certainly this location would bring The Dill to it's knees; another busted Fish and Chippery high-hopeful to be crushed in this fickle hospitality industry of North Pinellas.

 But as if simply to confound me 'twas not to be.....for instead of wondering out loud whether the Lucky Dill could handle such a large space, with apparent seating of almost 5000 people at dinner (or so it would appear) the over/under bet on the West End was whether the planners actually counted the number of chairs inside and compared that figure with the number of parking spaces outside! At present there are certainly NOT 5000 spaces in the lot and on some days (and all lunch and dinner periods) it looks as if there are 5-6 motorcars perpetually circling the lot just waiting for someone with pastrami on their shoe heading for the car...... It might appear to also be in the used car business for some hardened patrons sometimes park their vehicles on the shoulder of the road and dangerously close to US19. The demand has seemingly INCREASED and their ability to draw continues to show no bounds!

 Observations once inside this throwback of a Deli/Diner/Restaurant/Bar&Grill are that it's hard to NOT be impressed with everything that they do here. A Take-Out Bakery continues to serve the delicacies of chocolate, rasberry, bagel, cookie, rugallah, and the memory inducing Black and White. The bar is Full Service and sports a healthy mix of recipes and Martini Specials at Happy Hour (although I'm more partial to Whiskey Soda, usually a double...) And the dining room, or dining ROOMS, recall something like The Columbia in Ybor City as every time I turn there is yet ANOTHER room of happy, feasting diners!

 Now perhaps the menu item that has drawn Watson and I like bee's to honey has been the Matzoh Ball Soup. One does not need to be Jewish to completely appreciate the deliciousness of this freshly made soup with it's dumplings the size of a baseball (ONE baseball - only one per bowl but it is PLENTY!) Fresh chicken, carrots, celery, and a broth like the manna that it is; 'tis surely an elixir from above and sure to cure many an ailment.

A visit to The Lucky Dill is not complete in my view without at least a taste of this wonderful bromide. And while many a past visit included incarnations of 'The Sandwich That Ate Brooklyn', these sandwiches are straight out of the Carnegie Deli in NY (and yes, we've eaten there and can attest The Lucky Dill is definitely a first generation descendent). The Rueben, The Rachael (Turkey Rueben), Pastrmi, Club Sandwiches.....these are enormous creations that clearly defy logic AND any balance sheet! How oh HOW can they serve so much food between two slices of bread and clear a profit? It's a mystery greater than The Hound of the Baskervilles! But that's not enough! They drop PASTRIES at the table BEFORE you order! And many a visit is punctuated with a free slice of Cheesecake when a sandwich and drink are ordered.....I am beginning to think this is merely a ploy when I VISIT to throw off my investigation! Exasperating!

 This visit had me ordering up a Flatbread Pizza while Watson, continuing his attention to his ever-expanding girth, had a Greek Salad (yes, with Potato Salad!) So with no less than 8 visits to this 'House of Food Fun' this year alone, including breakfast feasts, lunches of dizzying proportions, dinners with long waits and quick seatings, and weekend brunches that challenge even Disney World for the demand of patrons, this Lucky Dill has beaten me for I cannot use my fortitude and puck to discover this profitless secret! But I will not give up! I WILL CONTINUE to investigate this hotspot, MONTHLY if need be, in search of the elusive answer I seek!

Watson, come quickly! The game (and the pastrami) is afoot (or.....it's ON your foot!) Come quickly, there are cars circling!