Monday, February 3, 2014

The Rebel Deli lives -- at least in my kitchen

    Back in my student days I spent a year to 18 months working at the Rebel Deli, which was located on Jackson Ave., at the end of Fraternity Row, just west of Tidwell's Grocery and Service Station.
    The Rebel Deli's menu was about as simple as can be. They (or we) served steamed sandwiches on white, wheat, or onion roll. A variety of cheeses were available. There were no tomatoes, onions, green peppers, or any of that nonsense. Just bread, meat, and cheese steamed, put on a square of tinfoil which you then carried to your table to eat. Many of us absolutely loved them, and because I worked there I got to eat for half price.
    Grey Sellers, the owner of the Rebel Deli, wrote a little bit about the history of his restaurant on the Restaurant History of Oxford Facebook page:
   I opened the Rebel Deli in September of 1979 and served the last sandwich on May 31, 1985. It was a sad day. George Kakales, the owner of Dino's on the square, bought the property from Mr. McMillan in order to open the new Dino's. He decided that he didn't need any additional competition and would not renew my lease. I looked for other locations to move the deli to but I could not find anyone willing to lease to a restaurant.
   When we first opened, there were only a handful of places selling food after 10:30pm. (Mr. Quick, Kiami's Bowling Alley, Pizza Den, and Quick Shop). We were open 14 hours a day and would typically do half of our sales in the 2 hour period from 11:00pm to 1:00am. The drunk to sober ratio during this time slot was about 10-1. It was rare that anyone would pay with cash. We would take between 70 and 90 checks on an average day with the average check total approximately $3.50. The best thing I can say about Rebel Deli customers is that after 6 years, we closed the doors with only 7 checks that bounced and were never paid.
   I saved 1 of the steamers and we break it out 2-3 times/year. It brings back a lot of good memories.
    The video that I've posted above just shows me making some steamed sandwiches and talking a little bit to my kids about the Rebel Deli. I will note that the Pepperidge Farm onion rolls did not steam well at all. The Cobblestone Mill bread did quite well. The video is almost 15 minutes long, so please be assured that you won't hurt my feelings if you skip through parts of it!
    After the failure of the Pepperidge Farm bread I bought some much firmer onion rolls from Kroger and made a sandwich using Boar's Head oven roasted turkey and Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp white cheddar. After steaming it I topped the sandwich with a couple of pieces of crisp bacon. It was a joint tribute, to both the Rebel Deli and the Hoka Theatre, which used to sell a sandwich called the "Love at First Bite" made with turkey, cheddar, and bacon. Yes, my sandwich was good.
    The steamer is good for more than just making sandwiches. It's supposedly great for cooking shellfish and for reheating a variety of foods. I'll have to play around with it some, but my reason for getting it was to make sandwiches.
    If our group's generator will handle it I think I'll bring the steamer to the Grove for one of the football games. Something tells me I won't lack for company.

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