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CU still won, but I had to watch the game without sandwiches. It wasn't nearly so satisfying.

One of the things I miss the most about working in kitchens is their smell. Lit burners, dry stock, charred bread, garlic and onions. There is no smell in the world so comforting to me as the smell of Laura's hair when she's sleeping. Second to that? The smell of a working kitchen on a cool afternoon with the first bite of autumn in the air. Stepping back inside two days later, right in advance of the lunch rush, all those smells come flooding back into me like a wind. The deli doesn't have an open kitchen, per se, just a kitchen — set against the back wall, blocked from the counter only by a pass shelf-slash-storage rack. Brunson, Allee and the crew work right out in the open, working the cutting board and cold table, turning around to wrap, jumping across a small gulf of space to shuffle pans on the burners. And they work fast, because when the rush comes on, it hits like a wave, forever crashing. Bikers and joggers and yuppies and neighborhood folk with kids or dogs or both all seem to converge at once, and where a moment ago I was the only one in the place — standing at the counter, trying to decide between the Reuben or the Cuban (to make it easy, I ordered both) — suddenly I am pushed off to a small circle of shrinking real estate by the door as the parties come in.

Masterpiece does take-away and sit-down service. Both are handled the same: Order at the counter, pay your green and wait for someone to shout your name over the din. You pick up across a separate section of counter — either in a brown bag or on lovely, modern plates, all white and in unusual shapes. Tables are provided, but the rest is up to you. There are deli cases offering some killer product (Thumann's deli meats, cured meats from Salumeria Biellese in Manhattan, a small but solid selection of artisan, international cheeses), boxes of this and cans of that scattered around every flat surface, and a cooler packed with Boylan's sodas and energy drinks. In the kitchen, Brunson, Allee and their crew make their own shrimp-and-tofu miso soup, cure their own gravlax and cook up desserts: Valrhona chocolate cake with housemade cashew brittle and chantilly cream; rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream perfect for the coming season; lemon-honey panna cotta for people who like panna cotta, which I don't.

Justin Brunson (left) and Steve Allee know how to fill a sandwich.
mark manger
Justin Brunson (left) and Steve Allee know how to fill a sandwich.

Location Info

Map

Masterpiece Delicatessen

1575 Central St.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Northwest Denver

Details

Masterpiece Delicatessen
Truffle egg salad: $7.75
Reuben: $8.75
Cuban: $9
Brisket: $9
Pork roll: $4.75
1575 Central Street
303-561-3354
Hours: 7 a.m.-close Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-close Saturday-Sunday

Masterpiece's Cuban sandwich is not traditional, but it's tasty. Done on a lard-less sandwich roll and grilled in a press, it contains slow-roasted and brined pork, sliced ham, dill pickles from the slicer, lots of mustard and a garlic aioli that is nice but, to a purist, maybe one step too far from Calle Ocho in Miami. The Reuben is wet and excellent, drooling Thousand Island dressing and kraut juice all over everything. And even the simplest of sandwiches — a grilled cheese with bacon — shows a little bump of genius, with the kitchen chopping the bacon before putting it between the bread so that you don't take a bite and pull all the bacon out in one fell swoop.

I also go for a black-truffle egg salad sandwich with brunoise red onions and capers that guarantees no one will kiss you (or, really, want to come within ten feet of you) for the rest of the day. I love egg salad but couldn't eat more than half of the sandwich without feeling stuffed and stinky and redolent of onions and fungus. It's not a smell or flavor that goes away easily, either; black truffle laughs at breath mints. Still, it's a great sandwich — luxury couched inside comfort, which is one of a chef's best tricks.

As a matter of fact, all of the sandwiches here are great sandwiches, classics done with fillips of brilliance, with touches of wild talent — proof positive that while all cooking is craft and some cooking is art, a simple and well-made sandwich can often be both: a masterpiece done in shades of food.

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