Charlie’s Deli and Catering is the place to go

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The Rueben from Charli’s Deli in Dayton

Sandwich sleuth

Since arriving in Dayton a little more than a year ago I’ve asked lots of Daytonians where they go for a good sandwich. Charlie’s Deli and Catering is always first out of everyone’s mouth, spoken with excitement and almost reverence. It’s a “You’ve gotta go there” kind of place. So I had to go there.

Having lunch at Charlie’s Deli is like walking into any deli. You get in line, you grab a menu and look at the hand written specials; you peer into the deli case while you decide just what you’re in the mood for. But as you start looking at the menu you notice there’s a little more going on here, and it starts to become evident why Charlie’s has a cult-like following. It’s not exactly easy to get to, and it’s not in the chicest part of town. But there’s this crazy list of 38 specialty sandwiches (plus a list of other options, including soups and salads.) And there’s a German grocery in the next room.

Barnyard blitz

It’s those sandwich descriptions that got my lunch companion Mad Skillz (restaurant industry professional goddess) and I chortling as we perused. Take, for instance, The Barnyard. Like almost all the specialty sandwiches, italicized descriptions and/or commentary follow after the sandwich’s name. In this case: “The BARNYARD oink, moo, gobble, cluck, baa” ($6.95). Further description states it consists of cow, pig, turkey, chicken, lamb and of course, bacon. All this with baby Swiss, onion and pickle, toasted and melted. And “a healthy portion of this Bistro sauce I found.” How could I pass that up?

I’m glad I didn’t pass up The Barnyard. This crazy mashup of farm phylum was crazy good. The slathered-on Bistro sauce, tangy with horseradish, topped the various slices of meats.

The taste of marinated lamb and bacon stood out, and the whole thing was pulled together nicely with the crunch of a thick slice of sweet raw onion.

Other notable noshes we thought sounded tempting and/or amusing: “The YIPEE-KI-YAY inspired by my friend Bruce Willis,” “The CHI-DOG not as good as the one you had in Chicago,” and the “PREGO MELT – a former employee had the craves.” A friend of Mad Skillz dropped by our table to claim her favorite as the sandwich which reigns uber alles: “The DALTONBURGER, aka the red rifle.” The menu board lists it with a sign that reads “Warning: Choking Hazard.” Not an actual burger, it’s Bavarian ham, hard salami, super sharp cheese, mild pepper rings and cream cheese on a raisin cinnamon toast bagel. Like Andy himself, I think I’ll pass instead of running with that one.

Where’s the beef?

The Reuben ($4.50) wasn’t exactly the sort I was looking for. I wanted the kind of Reuben you need a forklift to hoist – one loaded with soft fatty shavings of corned beef that falls out of the sandwich and your mouth. I wasn’t expecting The Carnegie Deli’s version, but I wanted a little more from this Reuben. Served on a light rye (imported Bayerische Brotzeit) with a smattering of sauerkraut and topped with 1000 Island, it lacked the stack of beef I was looking for. The meat itself was salty and tasted a little processed. However, I loved the menu’s honest comment: “REUBEN best in Dayton, I think, I hope, I don’t know.” De facto, since it’s the first Reuben I’ve tried in Dayton, it is the best. So far…

Dusseldorf in Dayton

We accompanied our sandwiches with a few German specialties. I started with the Chicken Spaetzle Soup ($3.50) and one of Becky’s Famous Cabbage Rolls ($3). The soup was passable – a thickish chicken stock with shredded chicken and noodles. On the bland side, and nothing to write der Homeland about. But the cabbage roll was zehr gut. The cabbage was tender and not at all mushy or overcooked, still bright green in color. The tomato sauerkraut tasted vinegary and sharp. I think I even found some little doughy dumplings in the sauerkraut juice. My order inspired a neighboring diner to go order one for himself. Mad Skillz and I both found the German Potato Salad sweet but enjoyable with lots of bacon.

If you haven’t gotten enough of your German on, look around the dining area. Surrounding the red and white vinyl covered tables are shelves and refrigerators stocked with import items – everything from boxed German cookies and candies to fresh rye breads of several varieties. On the day I visited, the shelves were sparse, but I was assured a shipment was arriving the next day. On any day you can always take home Schinkenwurst, Hessische smoked liver, blood and tongue or German head cheese from the deli case. And if you want to start your Oktoberfest a little early, you can wash it all down with Charlie’s extensive collection of Import and Craft beers.

Now that I’ve been living in Dayton a while and writing about restaurants, people are starting to ask me where to find a good sandwich. I will be able to tell them it’s worth a trip to Charlie’s Deli. They’ve been in business for more than 50 years with their signature sandwiches and specialty ingredients, and I’d rank this deli worthy of future visits. Maybe next time I’ll run with the DALTONBURGER instead of passing.

Charlie’s Deli and Catering is located at 429 Troy St. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and closed Sundays. For more information, please call 937.224.3354 or visit

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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