Chandler’s Deli is a soul-food cafeteria where everything the kitchen makes plays reveille for taste buds. There are no surprises on the menu. Barbecue, fried chicken, and catfish can be had with all the expected sides: mac ‘n’ cheese, broccoli casserole, dirty rice, green beans, cornbread, et. al. What is surprising is the potent flavor of everything, from earthy rectangles of cornbread to sunny peach cobbler.
Fried chicken is a must. Somehow, every piece seems 150% larger than normal. Or is that extra size just the surfeit of thick, crunchy, super-seasoned crust that makes every bite ecstatic? Broccoli casserole does indeed contain broccoli, but mostly as a foil for all its cheese, butter, and reefs of unctuous bread: a stunning transmogrification of a green vegetable into gold indulgence. Greens are oily and verdant. Fried green tomatoes – fried to order and served piping hot – are discs of dizzying, delicious contrast: lush, fallapart crust and puckery al dente discs of tomato. This is the Platonic ideal of the dish.
Among desserts, simple caramel cake is simply unimprovable: fresh, moist, and piled with enough sweet icing to make every bite heavenly. Banana pudding is loaded with cookies, its custard devilishly dark.
I won’t call Chandler’s Deli a dive, because it is too homey for that term to apply. In fact, one table in the somewhat disheveled dining room is like a home kitchen office, piled high with mail, reading material, and miscellaneous business paperwork to which the management occasionally pays attention. Nor will I say that the place could use a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning, for its, shall we say, unkempt appearance is part of its well-burnished personality. In other words, if you are a fastidious drill-sergeant sort who frets about disorder, this restaurant is probably not for you. But if you love soul food at its finest, dished out by a welcoming staff who take great pleasure in the delight shown by happy customers, Chandler’s Deli is a treasure.