Sandwich. How many times do we think about, talk about, or prepare a “sandwich”?

They are everywhere. The big feature at lunches, picnics and more. We eat them morning, noon and night. The recipe is simple — put anything you like between two slices of bread, and it’s a sandwich. Everyone from Dagwood Bumstead to Scooby-Do loves them. Americans, believe it or not, eat 300 million sandwiches a day.

We are grateful to the inventor of the sandwich, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Frankly, what would we do without them?

One of my dear friends, Brenda Ekhoff, of Grant Park, an experienced food person, sent me the following message: “You have to go here. You have to go to Darla’s Deli in Manteno. They have the best sandwiches.”

I trust her recommendations.

Set back from Route 50 between a trucking company and an auto supply store, I found Darla’s Deli and Café. To be honest, I drove by several times before I stopped in. From the outside, I expected a traditional deli counter, a few tables, and gaming. I remember my father saying, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Walking in, I was pleasantly surprised; no, I was stunned by the atmosphere. It’s adorable, comfortable, welcoming – all of those adjectives. The walls are painted a warm slate gray with a stone accent. Leather chairs are available for guests to relax while waiting for their orders. The décor was a combination of rural, antique, and classical. The ambiance is a blend of urban bistro and country cafe; it felt friendly and warm.

Brenna, a staff member, greeted me and filled me in on the most popular sandwiches. She was an excellent guide because there is a wide variety. They have sandwiches, subs, hot sandwiches, paninis, wraps, soups, and salads.

The house specialty is the Woody Allen with ¾ pound of corned beef, pastrami with Swiss cheese piled high on toasted rye, with a side of coleslaw and a big pickle. I ordered one of their best sellers for Dave, pot roast, and bleu cheese on rye. He loved it, and it was large enough he could only eat half. This came with homemade potato salad that was fantastic.

Other favorites are their tuna or chicken salad sandwiches. Brenna said the tuna was a best seller; but, I like chicken salad. The serving was huge and served on an Italian bun with lettuce and tomato and a pickle slice. There was no way to eat this sandwich in one sitting. It was loaded with white meat chicken from Boars Head, a little celery and mayo; just wow.

Sandwiches include corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, chicken, turkey, and more. They even serve liverwurst! Hot sandwiches range from Italian beef, Italian meatball, barbeque chicken or beef, toasted garlic ranch beef, and breakfast bagel. With October around the corner, try the sauerkraut and sausage.

Paninis choices are unique from the pot roast and bleu cheese; turkey, avocado and swiss; chicken pesto and tomato with mozzarella; and a gourmet pesto bacon. Boar’s Head meat and cheese is used and is available for sale as well.

With cooler weather approaching, you must try their soups. I ordered the California medley, and it was excellent. Soon, there will be chili.

Beverages include Caribou coffee, teas, smoothies, wine, beer, and water. The breads and pastries are from Pearsons Bakery.

As I waited for my order, I met with Kitty White, manager, whose father Gary is the owner. We went outside to the patio, where she raised the colorful umbrellas to shade the tables. I noticed in one area of the deli several four-top tables for guests to dine in. Kitty then showed me their banquet room with seating for 36 people. She said the partition could be folded back for more space. This room would be great for parties, showers, or meetings. Before COVID, they even had bingo. The banquet room is available to rent.

I expected the gaming machines to line the walls, but no. The gaming room partitioned off by swinging doors. They promote it as comfortable and discrete with complimentary snacks and beverages.

Darla’s Deli and Café is located at 417 S. Locust, Manteno. They are open at 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Call 815-468-2828 to place an order or more information. Check them out on Facebook, too!

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Go! You won’t be disappointed. My only complaint is why did I wait so long!

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