Deli food looks remarkably easy to pull off. In theory: You make (or buy) some cured meats, you put ’em on bread with some cheeses and dressings and pickles, and presto! You’re charging $12‒15 for a sandwich.
In reality, without a seriously dedicated in-house program for meat and someone with taste patrolling the food, things go south quickly—stale, under toasted bread, abusively large amounts of dressing, dried out meats, too much (or, even worse, too little) salt: the pitfalls are endless, and they can bring down even a large, ambitious would-be player in the deli world. (See the high-profile 2014 demise of Rye, in Lowry Hill, Minneapolis.)
With Meyvn, chef Adam Eaton and general manager Laurel Elm (both of St. Paul’s rightfully acclaimed Saint Dinette), and restaurateur Tim Niver (Saint Dinette and Mucci’s) have bet big on deli food in Uptown, and it looks and tastes like this ownership team is making all the right moves. The space itself is both effortlessly cool and warmly inviting: the white and gray tables and trim, stainless steel water urns, and blue and white food trays call to mind a cafeteria by way of Copenhagen, but small, inviting touches—light fixtures built from copper-colored yarn, tiny succulent plants on the table—offset all the frosty style and invite you to sit and eat already.
The menu is mercifully simple, focused on (mostly) traditional bagels (plain, everything, garlic and onion, poppy, sesame, brown sugar) and sandwiches, with some Middle Eastern small plates thrown in for good measure—falafel, hummus, shakshouka.
We recently had one of our all-time top 10 Reubens at Corktown Deli in Duluth, and now we have to jostle that list around to make room for one more. The Reuben at Meyvn ($13) was a beautifully balanced mix of complementary flavors—rich, full bodied, tender corned beef; perfectly toasted marble rye; and just enough kraut and Russian dressing to get the point across without being heavy handed. The Swiss cheese was similarly in proportion, lending a gooey, salty supporting note to every bite of the sandwich.
Many Reubens fail because they’re salted to death, or under seasoned—this one was dialed in correctly. The accompanying potato salad (a $3 upgrade) had hearty chunks of potato suspended in a pleasant, mashed-potato like mixture, and heavy hits of fresh dill gave it a unifying point of view. (A second unifying point of view beyond “salt,” it should be said—a 25 percent reduction in salt would have left the salad considerably tastier and still aggressively seasoned.)
I’m an unapologetic bagel guy—there were bagel makers in my family, I chased down the best bagels in New York City when I lived there, and when I was stranded in Boston for six years, I generally made my own bagels rather than choking down the incredibly tough (Izzy’s) or mediocre (Ess-a Bagel) options that were available locally. So hear and believe me when I say that Meyvn is turning out some seriously tasty boiled-and-then-wood fired bagels, forged Montreal-style.
They’ve got the right amount of exterior chew, a desirable skin-to-interior ratio (aka not a freaking hubcap), and an interior that is dense without being unpleasantly heavy. Our Garlic and Onion bagel ($2, like all bagels at Meyvn, with optional schmears for another $3) was almost—that’s an important qualifier—almost garlic-y to a fault, but the garlic tasted full-flavored and natural, and the tastes of salt and onion backed it up and made it sing.
All of this makes it disappointing that dinner service at Meyvn is bagel-free by design. I was able to beg a leftover brown sugar bagel for my five-year-old, but was denied a schmear of cream cheese, which defeated the purpose. There’s an understandable financial reason to keep bagels out of dinner service (every $5 bagel sold is potentially a $15 entree not ordered), but it seems reasonable to put them on the menu in another format—a bagel and lox platter or some kind of sampler plate, which would maintain the check average without locking away one of the best parts of the restaurant’s menu.
Since we’d tasted the Reuben for lunch, we pivoted to a couple of intriguing looking small plates for dinner. Our Shakshouka ($13) was just a shallow little dish of a meal, but the flavor—layered spices, tender cheese, running eggs, fresh cilantro—was miles deep. An accompanying piece of chewy flatbread was an ideal dining companion, and functioned well as a scoop for the delightful mess that was the shakshouka.
Even better (and far stranger) were our Peirogis ($13). We’ve had pierogies all over the place, and we’re used to the dumplings being doughy, clunky, massive, and almost apologetically simple. The Meyvn spin on the dish is much closer to a homespun caviar service than a hearty dumpling dish. The dumplings themselves were elegantly browned and an ideal conversation between chewy and crispy. The salty tang and pop of the whitefish roe were the heart of the dish, supported by the cheesy substance of the dumplings, the richness of the creme fraiche, and the herbal brightness of dill and chives.
What Eaton, Niver, Elm, and their team have been able to accomplish in a short time with Meyvn is remarkable, and if the crowds we saw when dining there (a joyous and surprising mix of deli-craving oldsters and social media-surfing 20-somethings) are any indicator, they’ve tapped into a rich vein of interest. The reputation of Minnesota as a bagel and deli desert is taking a beating, and that’s a great thing.
Where: 901 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, MN
Hours: Monday–Tuesday: 7am–10pm; Wednesday: CLOSED; Thursday–Saturday: 7am–10pm; Sunday: 7am–9pm