The Sampler at
Nani’s Deli and Eatery

If you want to find that great out-of-the-way little place with a certain dish that tickles your fancy, you’ve got to be a methodical hunter.

As a professional diner, I am always on the prowl, alert for any new opportunity, with a keen sense of hunger driving a relentless search for the little bistro, the hometown pizzeria, or the mythical “home cooked meal” in some local restaurant.

Just one block either way, more or less, off the main drag of Van Buren Street, can often take you to a mom-and-pop restaurant offering home-cooked delicacies.

One day, while prowling around the side streets (Old School Way off of East Main), I wandered upon a new little place called Nani’s Deli and Eatery. It is located just east of the courthouse in that walkway behind the old State Bank building on East Main Street.

Nani’s Deli has a comfortable country setting, a big stone fireplace with a comfy chair at one end, wooden floors and walls, and unique homemade tables, each with a pedestal made from a gnarly tree trunk. Over in one corner, a long counter is loaded with hand-baked goodies, ready to go—cookies, muffins, pies, and applesauce cake.

I settled myself into a very comfortable corner nook between the fireplace and a window, with a full view of the place. I ordered up an iced tea and perused the menu.

I like a place that serves breakfast all day long. I think that ought to be a national law. Nani’s is such a place, with a build-your-own-breakfast that includes eggs cooked your way, biscuits or bread, and sides like grits, sausage, ham, bacon, hash browns, and Goetta, the “Cincinnati Caviar”

You can have “Mom’s Oats,” with cream, raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar, or a whole host of breakfast specials: “Hunters Hash,” “Hungry Harry,” biscuits and gravy, or a two-egg omelet “any way you want it” for five bucks.

The lunch menu is simplicity itself: quiche du Jour, soup du Jour, and create-your-own salads and sandwiches. There are also combos, so, for a little more, you can get soup and sandwich, quiche and salad, and so forth.

But first, the appetizer. Nani’s Deli offers a home-made cheese ball, smoked fish dip with crackers and sliced Jalapenos, pate with crackers, a fresh veggie plate, and “Brown County bread,” crusty bread topped with marinara, garlic, basil, and cheeses.

The quiche is baked fresh daily and can be had by the slice or with a side of soup, salad, or fresh fruit. The day I was there, they were serving broccoli cheddar and bacon and swiss. The soups were ham and bean, cheesy broccoli, and something called “hamburger hash,” which certainly sounds like a meaty and manly soup.

There’s a house salad, a chef salad, and a choice of homemade dressings, which included the usual suspects along with “Grandma’s Dressing,” a delightful oil and vinegar based concoction handed down from the mother of proprietor Denise A. Loomis, “Food Artist and Certified Food Handler.”

Sandwiches? Ask for white, wheat, rye, or a wrap; request ham, roast beef, turkey, chicken, tuna or egg salad; add cheddar, muenster, provolone, Swiss or American; and inquire about lettuce, tomato, onion or pickle. Just ask. There’s also a very nice gourmet grilled cheese sandwich with two cheeses, onion and tomato, and a classic BLT.

Sides include bean salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and slaw. You can even get a PB&J for the little ones.

My deliberations were not extended. I knew immediately that I had to have that bacon and Swiss quiche. (The waiter opined that if women could somehow develop a bacon-and-cheese-scented perfume, men would flock. I pointed out that perhaps that is exactly what they’re trying to avoid.)

I also had the house salad—lettuce and spinach greens, onion, carrots, and grape-sized tomatoes—primarily as a vehicle to sample the heritage dressing (always trust grandma!). It was delicious. The waiter told me “Grandma,” who was French (extra credit!), mixed the dressing directly in the salad bowl, which served to wilt the lettuce. I remembered my own mother’s predilection for “wilted lettuce” when, in springtime, the new lettuce and green onions and radishes were abounding. She would fry up a raft of bacon and pour the hot grease, mixed with a little vinegar and sugar, over the greens and toss in the bacon bits as well.

France, meet Brown County.

I savored my meal, watched people, read the menu. I know that regular readers of these columns, will just naturally assume I had the cheesecake for dessert. But up there on the “Daily Specials” board along with the lunch specials (baked spaghetti and garlic bread, tacos with rice and beans, and “Popi’s Pup,” beef franks in meat sauce, presumably named for co-proprietor Dan Loomis) was a list of “dessert specials” including the aforementioned cheesecake, lime pie, chocolate cake with butter cream frosting, and dump cake.

My mother made “dump cake,” so named because you “dump in everything you’ve got”. Specifically, mother made dump cake with pineapple and cherries, which also figured into the Nani’s Deli creation.

I had a cup of locally-roasted coffee and a piece of dump cake, looked out the window, and thought about all the things that are no longer here and yet continue to persist in our memories and our menus.

And I was profoundly satisfied.