394 CBS Highway
Ph. (709) 730-0146
Was it the white wigged 4th Earl of Sandwich, wearing cravat, waistcoat, hose and buckled pumps who invented the sandwich? Or, was it his valet or cook? My money is on the eager-to-please valet, whose surname might have been Gribble or Grim, or something equally unalluring. I’m not even convinced his Lordship was the first person to eat a sandwich, although I’m perfectly willing to concede that it was named in his honour. After all, his valet, his house, his name. It’s just as well. I can’t imagine ordering a grilled cheese gribble, or smoked gammon grim.
Like any good idea, the “Sandwich” caught on. Millions are consumed around the world each day. Writing in Smithsonian-dot-com, Rachel Nuwer, quotes a study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service. “Forty-nine percent of Americans, they found, had eaten at least one sandwich the previous day.” That’s over 150 million sandwiches per day.
The British Sandwich Week website – it seems everything has a “week” or online presence – informs that, “British consumers manage to munch their way through over 11.5 billion sandwiches each year. If you laid each one end to end, they would go around the world about 44 times.” (Lovely. Now I’m picturing a globe wreathed in bread, cold cuts and flapping lettuce leaves.)
Little wonder, then, that sandwich shops like Rupert’s Deli pop up and stay up for a long time. Of course, the sandwiches must be good. I know, you’re probably thinking, “How hard can that be?” Well, I’ve been served plenty of poorly made sandwiches. I recall, for example, a sandwich where the meat was sliced with a razor blade, rendering it almost invisible, and a hot turkey sandwich made with processed turkey slices instead of freshly roasted turkey. Quelle horreur.
Rupert’s Deli, in Kelligrews – it used to be in Holyrood – may be the Mad Hatter of sandwich shops, because of its relentless, yet weirdly charming, quirkiness. It’s official operating hours, for example, are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Some days Rupert’s may be open for the full four hours. More likely, however, is a closing time of 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m. or 2:15 p.m. So, consider yourselves warned. Your drive to Kelligrews may be for naught, unless you have a Plan B. Tim Horton’s perhaps. Oh, and one more thing, Rupert’s accepts only cash.
Affable, polite, and genuinely nice, Gary Searle, the owner, says the crazy hours relate to supply. He purchases and prepares a certain amount of fresh food every day and when it runs out he closes shop. Yes, it’s a problem easily solved, and most businesses would never choose to operate in such a manner, but, four years on there’s no chance Searle is going to change his ways.
Searle has also been known to close – sometimes for weeks on end – when business is too good, “overwhelmed with people trying to eat here,” he would say. Most restaurant owners would love to have such a “problem.” Not Gary Searle. Nope, he’s happy with the way things are thanks very much, and, apparently, his customers have adjusted to the catch-as-catch-can nature of Rupert’s Deli. I’m reminded of “Brigadoon,” but I digress.
The name, “Rupert’s Deli,” comes from Gary’s late brother, Rupert Searle, who passed away in 2003. In a Facebook post Gary Searle wrote, “The name keeps him close to me.” Inside the shop there’s an in-memoriam wall dedicated to an early and loyal customer named Brendan. Customers and friends have written heartwarming notes on the wall around the words Brendan’s Wall and Rupert’s. Brendan’s favourite Rupert’s sandwich was the Smokehouse Club, and to this day, Gary Searle refers to it as “Brendan’s Sandwich”.
Rupert’s is cleanly designed with shiny hardwood flooring, bright, light green walls, white accents and modern café tables and chairs. There’s a banquette near Brendan’s Wall, which, along with the carefully handwritten wall notes to Brendan, makes the room seem less sterile. There’s usually someone at the counter to take your order and Gary Searle can be seen buzzing around in the kitchen behind, through a pass window, wearing his signature black hairnet.
I was gagging for a cup of coffee but Rupert’s doesn’t serve coffee or tea, just water and soft drinks, including Searle’s life long favourite, Pepsi. Funny, the place looks so much like a café and it calls itself a deli. Whoever heard of a deli or café without coffee? Ah well, what is it they say? When in Kelligrews? I had a Pepsi. My friend Linda – the Rupert’s lunch was her idea – had something without caffeine and Rupert’s spicy chicken melt. No melt for me. I wanted Brendan’s Sandwich, a.k.a. the Smokehouse Club.
When our food arrived, the niggling feeling that Rupert’s is a take-out in café clothing, or a café with the mind of a take-out, was reinforced. Despite a perfectly suitable dining area being available, and despite informing her that we would be eating in, the server brought us a grey plastic bag, expertly tied off at the top, holding take-out containers which housed our sandwiches.
After staring at each other, for what seemed like a month, Linda, without saying a word, carefully untied the bag and took out the containers. Server had obviously forgotten to write “club” and “melt” on the white containers with her trusty ballpoint pen. My sandwich was on fibre and grain bread and contained more meat, so it was easy to tell the sandwiches apart.
I should explain that, apart from water and soft drinks, the only other items sold at Rupert’s are sandwiches and cheese cakes. That’s it. Rupert’s has a permanent menu of eight different sandwiches. When we visited, a specials board contained three more, as well as three bread options and several custom sandwich options. Cheesecake choices that day were the popular peanut cheesecake and the Dairy Milk cheesecake.
Linda’s spicy chicken melt was grilled and on white bread. Although jammed with ham, bacon, red onion and mozzarella, along with hot chicken, it was the flavour of the freshly roasted chicken that dominated. Cheered up with some sweet and spicy mustard it was fresh, meaty, juicy, creamy and wonderful.
There aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe my Smokehouse Club. It was a door-stopper of a sandwich with smoked turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato. Rupert’s Smokehouse Club was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted, right up there with smoked meat sandwiches I’ve had in New York and Montreal.
For dessert we had, you guessed it, a piece of peanut cheesecake and a piece of Dairy Milk cheesecake. Once again, the food was delivered in take-out boxes in a grey, tied off plastic bag. The opening ritual was repeated, this time without a shocked reaction from us. We were getting used to the drill.
I was impressed with how thoroughly the flavour of peanuts had made its way through every ounce of the peanut cake. Both desserts were equally rich – like butter – and devastatingly calorific. But, what’s cheesecake without a cup of coffee? It was a crucial missing element for me. Consequently, while I could appreciate the quality of the cake, I didn’t enjoy the experience of eating it nearly as much as I would have with a strong cup of steaming hot, freshly brewed coffee.
Yes, Rupert’s Deli certainly has its “ways,” but you might want to bear this one fact in mind. Gary Searle is a sandwich artist. Those of you lucky enough to catch one of his creations, when Rupert’s tide is in, will not be disappointed. I just wish I lived closer to Kelligrews. Having a Rupert’s Smokehouse Club is something I could easily turn into a regular dining habit.
Price Lunch for two with soft drinks, tip and tax costs approximately $40.
Service Friendly but hesitant.
Atmosphere It’s primarily a take-out sandwich shop, so the vibe is a lot like a waiting room.
Sound level Low to moderate.
Open Daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or, until the food runs out. On the day we visited, they placed a “Sold Out” sign in the window around 2:20 p.m.
Reservations Walk-ins are welcome.
Credit cards No. Rupert’s Deli takes cash only.
Parking Limited space in front of the building.
Beverages Soft drinks and water. Rupert’s Deli does not serve tea or coffee.
Best bets Smokehouse Club Sandwich and the peanut cheesecake.
Wheelchair access No.
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional