Flavor: Upscale deli with modern American dining in the evening
Ambiance: Modern, comfortable
Who doesn’t love a good sandwich (besides the carbophobes, of course)? I, for one, am a sucker for a well-orchestrated one as a quick handheld lunch, but despair at the plethora of sub shops peddling generic meats and ghostly iceberg lettuce, to say nothing of that generally all-too-fluffy bread that plagues most of them.
Enter 28806 Deli, Bakery and Caterers. Since the eatery opened in 2003, owners Peter Affatato and Eric Backer have been elevating the common sandwich to loftier heights, employing house-baked artisan breads piled high with choice deli meats (some of which are roasted in-house) and other fine ingredients to soothe the sandwich-connoisseurs’ cravings.
There is, for example, the simple yet divine Eric’s MBLT ($5.95), with its fresh mozzarella, vine-ripe tomatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, leaf lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette on sourdough bread. The flavors are classic and hard to beat, and I’ve yet to be subjected to the disappointment of a pallid tomato in one of these.
If you subscribe to the feed-it-away approach to hangovers (as I do), nothing beats an Italian sandwich – just trust me on this one. These fellas obviously know their way around a good Italian. Thus, they realize that at least three types of pork are almost essential, and that nearly everything is better with a bit of extra fat; in this case, cappicolo, Genoa salami, and ham share some space with a slather of mayo and a drizzle of good-quality olive oil. Then, aside from the usual suspects – a squirt of vinegar here, some shaved red onion there, the obligatory tomato slices – the Rustic Italian ($6.95) gets the royal treatment with house-roasted red peppers and fresh oregano. Somebody say, “Hell, yeah.”
On top of the regular menu, 28806 runs daily specials that are undoubtedly worth a taste. Thursdays, for example, feature a delicious and tender shaved roast beef on a toothsome and appropriately dense ciabatta topped with a delightfully zesty gorgonzola, a tangy sun-dried tomato aioli and roasted red peppers ($7.95). My good fortune at showing up one Thursday wasn’t limited to the sandwich factor, however, as I was treated to another special lunchtime offering of eggplant parmigiana. It had excellent texture and flavor, prompting my dining companion to proclaim it “truly, really, f-ing good.”
Before they were masters of the sandwich, Backer and Affatato put in plenty of time on the culinary circuit. Affatato, who hails from an Italian-American family where food was revered, received a classical culinary education under the mavens of French cuisine at the Western Culinary Institute, then spent years observing the ins and outs of various restaurant businesses from the back of the house, securing several executive-chef positions. Having circuitously made his way from New York to Asheville, Affatato took the helm of the Savoy kitchen as the executive chef. There, he met Georgia-born Backer, also a culinary veteran, who busied himself turning out fabulous rustic breads and delicious pizza dough, and pulling the more-than-occasional stint on the hot line.
Now, after years of making sandwiches and salads, and the rather recent addition of hand-stretched Neapolitan-style pizzas, the restaurant has expanded its operations to show Asheville what 28806 can do when the lunch rush is long over. That’s when the music turns toward jazz and the lights are dimmed for the transition to dinner.
In this softened atmosphere – white tablecloths, wine lists and tiny bonsai trees on the tables, and the sandwich menu detached from its hooks and laid to rest for the evening – a new side of 28806 emerges. Bread transitions from deli workhorse to tabletop pre-dinner essential, sprouting prettily from a parchment-lined flowerpot and served with an amuse bouche, of sorts. Rather than a dish of oil or butter, the bread is served with a trio of hummus portions arranged in a line of tiny scoops. A sun-dried tomato variety was pleasant, a basil version, equally so – but a zippy little orange-flavored scoop crowned with whisper-thin curls of citrus zest stole the show.
That delicate Neapolitan pizza ($9.00) shows up for dinner re-imagined as an appetizer. Crowned with thin slices of grilled shrimp, an arugula pesto, fennel and a prudent application of parmesan, it is light, almost dainty, and deeply satisfying.
A salad of grilled radicchio ($7.00) – recommended by our server (yes, there is table service at night) as one of his favorite flavor combinations – did not disappoint on that particular front. The bitterness of the radicchio was tamed by the sweetness of apple and the more subdued sweetness of jicama, while gorgonzola, polenta “croutons” and a white balsamic dressing rounded out the flavor profile quite nicely. The radicchio could perhaps have used a sounder grilling, the rather large batons of jicama a kinder, gentler cut, but it was nonetheless a fine appetizer offering.
28806 uses seafood from the Honolulu Fish Company, a business that specializes in shipping fresh fish, much of it sashimi grade, straight from Pacific waters off Hawaii to restaurants. Currently on the menu (which changes frequently) are tombo (a Hawaiian ahi tuna), kajiki (blue marlin), and monchong (a Hawaiian lemon snapper).
I sampled that mongchong ($24.00), which was crusted with pumpkin seed and masa and served with a sweet potato and yucca hash and a sauce featuring Meyer lemon. Not exactly what one might expect from a deli, huh? Neither is the pan-seared duck breast ($19.00) with a port-wine jus, fresh cherries and a crisp “Charleston” slaw.
Surprises continued during dessert with a rather simple summer favorite: macerated strawberries with fluffy biscuits and a tart lemon curd.
Another good surprise, for those who might shy away from the higher-end dishes: The restaurant’s staff says that the dinner menu will soon expand to encompass a lower price point.