Everyone has a favorite sandwich. For years, mine was an open-faced grilled cheese with cheddar and plenty of cracked black pepper. Before you complain that a sandwich is defined as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,” know that Merriam-Webster is getting soft. They also define a sando as “one slice of bread covered with food” and “something resembling a sandwich.” (I’m kind of disappointed in the editors of the dictionary for this wishy-washiness, but I digress.)
Over time, my favorite grilled cheese faded from glory and was replaced by the sweet-and-smoky flavor of pastrami. I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow I became entranced by transformative nature of pastrami. After all, have you ever undercooked a brisket? It’s the saddest, chewiest, most flavorless experience of your life. But after brining, smoking, and steaming that same brisket, it literally melts in your mouth as you eat it. Phenomenal!
I decided I had to make my own. After all, how could I truly appreciate something I’d never tried making myself? So, I picked up a copy of “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, and got to work. After brining, smoking, and steaming the brisket, my pastrami was okay but not great. I made a few tweaks and went back at it, brining and smoking briskets until I had an impossibly good sandwich. Some might wonder why I spent so much time (and money) trying to get it right when there are tons of store-bought options out there, but I know the guys over at 2nd Deli & Spirits understand that kind of dedication.
When Colin Brunson and Zach Williams met back in 2010, they had no idea they’d be opening a deli less than a decade later. They should have known – they basically became friends because they both liked eating sandwiches and drinking beer – but who could predict something like that? Then, the space on the corner of Second and College became available. Durango might have a thousand sushi restaurants, but there are few sandwich places and even fewer traditional delis making their food from scratch. They’d regret it forever if they didn’t go for it, so they did.
They entertained the idea of buying their deli meats. It would be easier, and probably more cost effective. But after taste-testing corned beef and pastrami, they knew they could do it better. Like me, they went through a lot of brisket during the testing phase, enlisting the help of their friends to eat batch after batch until they found a recipe everyone loved, which was 10 days on the brine, followed by 18 hours of low-and-slow smoking and steaming. They were finally ready to open their doors, but they had no idea how badly the people of this town wanted sandwiches.
During their first week, they had to close twice because they ran out of food. When you’re making stuff from scratch, you can’t exactly call up Sysco and ask them to deliver more. Their customers weren’t deterred, though. Every day, the line went out the door and around the corner, usually forming before they even opened. Now that they’ve been open for a few months, things are starting to come together. They’ve gotten into a rhythm with their from-scratch products, which includes corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, and all the dressings, sauces, and sides. They even grind the meat in-house for their burgers.
I don’t think I could ever get tired of sandwiches like these, but there’s plenty of variety on the menu to keep things fresh. There’s so much you can do between two pieces of bread. Lox on sourdough, ham and goat cheese on baguette, turkey bacon and cheddar, or my favorite, pastrami and mustard on Jewish rye. These guys are doing it right, and they’re building specials and serving up two ever-changing soups to keep things fresh for returning customers.
If you haven’t been yet, check out the little community they’re creating on the corner of Second Ave, nestled in between the Wild Horse and The Bookcase & Barber. When you walk through that welcoming, bright red door, you’ll get a good view of the cooks back in the open kitchen, who are slicing those deli meats and the fresh vegetables you’ll find on your sandwich. They don’t buy anything pre-sliced, including the lettuce, which tastes crisper when you shred it daily. Order a sandwich to go for the office, or sidle up to the custom-made concrete bar and rest your feet on the old railroad ties that line the floor as you enjoy your meal.
In the end, cooking this way takes a lot of work and a ton of dedication. If you’re asking yourself why you should go through all that trouble when you can buy everything on the menu after it’s already made, just take a bite. When you taste it, it will all make sense.
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].