What ever happened to the good old-fashioned, hearty
sandwich made by a local deli or cafe?
Tasty, gigantic sandwiches that pleased virtually everyone in past times has often given way to weird, pretentious combinations with hefty price tags, bland pizza house style subs with mediocre food sourcing, and chains with clever marketing trumping the final product.
We didn't think about it way back then, but the local sandwich maker focused on the art and science of sandwich making. The art focused on the sandwich maker's pride in putting one's own signature stamp on the sandwich, and the science of identifying the best food sources and knowing how to turn it into something special. He or she made the sandwich for the customer's satisfaction, and never for the sandwich maker's ego.
Suburban Boston has a handful of sandwich shops that do things the right way. Michael's Sunburst Deli and Cafe in Wrentham, Mass., in particular, stands as one of the last great, old fashioned sandwich shops we've experienced in eastern Massachusetts. The sandwiches are huge, full of flavor, and served with genuine admiration for the customer. The bright, sunny, cheerful storefront with big picture windows and a pleasant small dining area lends a welcoming feel that owner Michael Lewicki and his sister Kathleen Bailey embrace with great pride.
In business since 1993, Michael's Sunburst Deli and Cafe has expanded upon its initial base of Boar's Head meats and New England Roasters Coffee -- with flatbreads, homemade dinners, an excellent variety of fresh salads and an expanding catering business. While Michael's pretty much hits a home run with virtually everything they create and serve, it is the sandwich that is still paramount to many customers.
Michael's turkey sandwich goes to the next level with Joe's Thanksgiving -- a heaping portion of Boar's Head Turkey with wonderfully flavorful stuffing and homestyle cranberry sauce. Hot pastrami with extra Swiss cheese and dijon mustard offers a superior alternative to an underwhelming pastrami sandwich scene in the Boston suburbs. The Mrs. CS with honey maple ham, cheddar, dijon mustard and lettuce takes on a mouthwatering presence. The opportunity to order your own sandwich amongst 16 menu meats and seafood (and a vegetarian option), 10 toppings, seven spreads, and eight cheeses creates diverse possibilities. They also make a tremendous tuna melt and Italian, as well as an incredible reuben! Of course, a successfully-made sandwich begins with great bread, and Michael's pays close attention to that crucial detail with several excellent varieties. The final product always satisfies. You can't teach this stuff; Michael's innately knows how to deliver the goods.
The deli section is bustling. Julie -- a "deli technician", of sorts -- and other friendly employees work the counter for take-out and eat-in customers. Michael and Kathleen often handle the register, which serves as a great way for them to get to know each and every customer.
On the dinner side, the pot roast and roast turkey dinners not only go beyond the criteria of quality homemade meals, but come in at prices that would cost twice the amount at many other local restaurants. The daily specials are always worth checking out, too, with something for the early riser at 5 a.m. to the early evening customer looking for a meal to take home (Michael's closes at 7 p.m.).
Additionally, Michael's sells beer and wine to complement take-out orders. The dessert selection is fabulous as their long-time affiliation with The Pastry Box bakery in nearby Plainville, Mass., yields some phenomenal cakes, moonpies, turnovers, brownies and cookies. Michael's contributes wonderfully to the baked goods selections with its own freshly-made muffins.
For Lewicki, owning a deli turned out to a be a great decision. A former excavator operator, Lewicki grew tired of driving a truck and hauling gravel on a front end loader. Lewicki loved working for his dad's business, but knew he had a greater career calling.
When on the road, Lewicki was always interested in "finding the best sandwiches" at roadside restaurants, diners and other dining spots. From the inspirational grilled reuben at Au Bon Pain to the classic Monte Christo at the local sandwich shop, Lewicki became an unofficial purveyor of sandwiches.
Lewicki decided to open a deli the day after his 1989 marriage to Beth (a speech pathologist in the Bellingham, Mass., Public Schools). Eventually, the career dream came true and Michael's Deli and Cafe was born. One morning when starting the business day, Lewicki witnessed a beautiful sunrise across the street beyond the fields, and that is how "Sunburst" became part of the Michael's Sunburst Deli and Cafe name.
Many years later, Michael's retains it bright, clean look and an increasingly loyal following that loves the food and, just as importantly, likes feeling welcomed.
"Making people feeling welcome is part of our business," said Lewicki. "I believe that it is so important to take an interest in people and remember their names."
On any given day, Michael, Kathleen and a well chosen, family-like staff can be seen doing just that -- saying "hello" to people by name, and the customers doing the very same thing in return. In a way, this doesn't seem like the Boston suburbs, which can be sometimes rushed and occasionally aloof. The look and feel of Michael's -- located in between open fields, woods and lakes that seem more Vermont or Upstate New York -- conjures up thoughts of those classic roadside restaurants that we all happily come across while on vacation.
Everything just seems right at Michael's, and that's what Lewicki intended when creating his business.
"My dad always said 'If you are going to do something you are interested in, do it right,'" said Lewicki. "I knew I could duplicate my favorite sandwiches. I could do even better, I thought."
Lewicki's business focus, combined with an extremely gracious and pleasant personality, helps makes Michael's a truly special, good old-fashioned sandwich shop -- and more -- that one could only hope returns on a grander scale to the deli and cafe world. It might be quite a wait for that retro culinary renaissance, so thank goodness for places like Michael's that carries the proud tradition without ever looking back.
Michael's Suburst Deli and Cafe is located at 305 Shears St., Wrentham MA. Tel. (508) 384-1511. Web site: http://www.michaelsdeliandcafe.com
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