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RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Gandolfo's a near-deli experience

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Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/CARLA KOEN

A Rockefeller Reuben, served with potato salad, features corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye at Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen in Little Rock’s Promenade at Chenal.

We joked after a confusing counter experience at Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen that it was fitting for it to have a name similar to Lord of the Rings character Gandalf.

Because getting breakfast -- or so we had hoped -- turned into quite the epic.

On a recent Saturday about 11:30 a.m., my date and I entered the newest Promenade at Chenal eatery in the former Boneheads location planning to order a late breakfast.

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Photos by Jennifer Christman

We set our minds on an egg scramble and French toast and ordered them, only to be told the restaurant stopped serving breakfast at 11 a.m. But, but, but, we pouted, the paper menu plainly says, "Breakfast served all day." Even if it didn't, this was Saturday -- don't most places serve late breakfast on weekends?

There was one consolation: While we couldn't order breakfast, we could order one of the nine breakfast sandwiches that come with a fruit cup or, for an added charge, an order of home fries -- those are available all day.

Well, fine. I'd have the Sausage, Egg & Cheese ($5.49) and the home fries ($2.69).

No, the order taker said, after consulting with the kitchen. They couldn't make home fries at this hour either, so -- hmph! -- fruit would have to do. My date gave up on breakfast altogether, ordering the Italian sandwich ($9.49) and settling for it to be served cold, not hot. "I just didn't want to be told no again," he said with a shrug.

It wouldn't be the only hiccup in our Gandolfo's adventures.

On a different morning, I'd order the Lox & Bagel ($10.59) on an "everything" bagel to go, only to find I had been given, sigh, a plain bagel (not to mention too much red onion. And the rather steep sandwich really could have benefited from some capers and lemon like a real New York deli would have provided).

As for a giant peanut butter cookie ($1.49) ordered to be enjoyed later in the day, it looked glorious with big Reese's cup chunks in the display case. But the one I received in my bag was just a plain peanut butter cookie that was -- wah! -- burned on the bottom.

Although it plays Billy Joel tunes and serves sandwiches with names like the Wall Street Club, Gandolfo's is a long way from Brooklyn and The Bronx. It is based in Utah, though the chain's website says it was conceptualized by homesick New Yawkers. While it's no Carnegie Deli, and we did experience a few disappointments, it's basically a decent fast-casual sandwich and breakfast chain.

Food is produced quickly, and there is plenty of seating at booths, four-tops and pub tables inside and on a patio outside, making it an ideal spot for a bite while shopping or before a movie.

The menu features more than two dozen sandwiches ($6.49-$11.79, some in half and whole sizes), which come with a choice of potato salad, pasta salad, cole slaw or chips. Though we never got around to trying them, there are six salads ($4.99-$9.79, some in half and whole sizes) and three New York franks ($4.99-$5.69). A kids menu offers two sandwich choices or Mac & Cheese with chips and a drink for $3.99-$5.99.

Back to our "brunch." It wasn't his first choice, but my date did praise the meaty Italian sandwich, featuring capicola, ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo and olive and vinegar on a hoagie roll, served with a bag of Lay's chips.

My Sausage, Egg & Cheese sandwich, which I ordered to come on a croissant (bagel or breakfast roll are the other options), was fine, even if the sausage could have been browned longer. Still, it was nothing a drive-through couldn't have produced cheaper.

On this outing, where only one of us got a soft drink (Pepsi products and no Diet Dr Pepper -- boo!), we managed to spend $19, which seemed like a lot for what we got.

A friend joined me for a weekday lunch, and our sandwiches -- a Rockefeller Reuben ($6.99 half, $11.79 whole) and a Philly Cream Cheese Steak ($8.29) -- were promptly prepared and served. She mused: "I wonder if the owner realizes that Little Rock has its own Rockefellers, who may or may not like Reubens."

As for her Reuben, which she ordered with corned beef (pastrami and turkey are other choices), Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing (mustard is another option), on rye: "I got a half sandwich, thinking it would be stuffed to the gills like the ones I have had at Canter's. Yeah, bad idea. Though the sandwich was tasty, it was about half the size of the "real thing" -- and I was still hungry. It came with a side of potato salad that was OK, but nothing spectacular. And was that bacon in the potato salad? That may be a problem for some folks."

A more filling option would be the choose-any-two for $8.99: a half sandwich, a half salad or a cup of soup. But there is no way we would have wanted soup on this 90-degree day.

I wasn't feeling the Philly "steak," but that's my fault for not reading the menu more carefully. The "steak" was boring deli roast beef on a hoagie roll, though the cream cheese, mozzarella, green pepper, marinated mushrooms and onion tried their best to dress it up. A pleasing side of fries was an additional $2.69.

Blueberry and chocolate muffins ($3.49) bought to serve as breakfast and snack possibilities perhaps looked better in the case than they tasted, but isn't that usually the "case" with chain-baked goods everywhere?

Our journey ends where it began: We did get around to ordering an early breakfast to-go on another visit. This time we ordered the Midtown Scrambler ($7.89), the French Toast & Bacon with scrambled eggs ($9.29), two orders of home fries ($2.69 each) and a coffee ($2.19). With tax it amounted to $27.47. We felt like we could have enjoyed a full-service, fancy breakfast somewhere for that amount.

My date's French Toast featured three massive, but somewhat parched, slices of sweet, spiced bread that could have enjoyed a longer pre-cooking soak; the provided pancake syrup helped. Nothing could really help the squishy serving of bacon that appeared to be an afterthought. Still, it was eaten, because ... bacon. The scrambled eggs were scrambled eggs.

The Midtown of scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, green onion, cheddar and avocado satisfied, as did the heap of home fries -- potatoes cooked with plentiful onion and green pepper. The home fries, in fact, were our favorite of all Gandolfo's offerings.

So we were, in the end, rewarded for persistence in our quest.

Weekend on 07/13/2017

Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen

Address: The Promenade at Chenal, 17901 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock

Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, breakfast

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Reservations: No

Alcoholic beverages: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

(501) 830-4071

gandolfosdeli.com

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