by Mike Corrigan

Crickets Deli is really quite a prize. It's been around for years and still gets it right. With dozens of sure-fire tastes on a menu that covers more than one base, it offers downtown business types unflagging support in the endless war against blood sugar drops and growling stomachs.

This sandwich, soup, salad -- and don't forget, breakfast -- eatery is a bright and cheery oasis located within the steely bowels of the unnervingly sterile and imposing megalopolis known as the Bank of America Financial Center. No wonder it has taken me very nearly two decades to hear about this place. But what was hot news to me last week, is, I'm sure common knowledge to the many humans who work in and around this gleaming metal obelisk. Crickets occupies the southwest corner of the building's skywalk level. The space is expansive, accommodating and immaculately clean. Light pours in from the soaring windows that line two adjoining walls and ricochets off the tops of the padded chrome mesh dining room chairs. The chair cushions are a peculiar shade of mauve and the tables are neatly fitted with sea foam green covers. While the color schemes (not to mention the plastic flowers everywhere) may date the decor a little, the overall impression is more than agreeable. And those terrific window seats afford diners with great, bird's-eye views of the bustling urban traffic below.

The menu features in excess of 15 salads and something like an equal number of specialty sandwiches. Witty titles come at no extra charge. There's the Frenchy croissant (turkey, ham, sprouts, cucumber, tomato and Dijon mustard for $6.25), the Love Song club (bacon, lettuce, tomato, shrimp, avocado and 1,000 Island dressing for $6.75) and the Alfred E. Newman club (ham, turkey, muenster cheese, tomato, lettuce and bleu cheese dressing for $6.75). On the salad side of the menu, you've got (to name but a few) a sesame chicken, an albacore tuna and an Italian hero for $6.25 each or a Caesar, a Cobb, a taco, or a Hawaiian for $6.75 each. All sandwiches are served with potato chips. The daily soup and sandwich special is $4.95.

After a few minutes of menu perusing, my lunch partner and I launched into ordering. The Chicken Teriyaki Bento ($5.95), a house special, seemed like an obvious choice. The Cary Grant's Judy club sandwich ($6.75), with roast beef, lettuce, tomato, bacon and bleu cheese dressing, also seemed to leap out at us. We thought the Shrimp Louie ($6.25) sounded like a dreamy salad choice, but when the waitress informed us that they were currently out of asparagus (one of the salad's main ingredients). It was a deal-breaker. We chose instead the $6.25 Primo Pasta salad (with salami, shrimp, provolone, celery and black olives in a dill dressing).

The Bento comes with marinated and grilled chicken breast chunks in a sweet teriyaki sauce over a bed of steamed white rice accompanied by pickled cucumber slices, shredded carrot and a mysterious spoonful of yellow corn. You also get your choice of soup of the day or salad. I chose the latter with a creamy Italian dressing. The dressing was extremely thick and intensely flavored with thyme (I think). The salad lettuce was your basic bagged stuff but quite fresh. The teriyaki chicken was tender and quite delicious (the white rice was of unusually high quality as well) yet I found myself wishing I had chosen a different side -- or at least a different dressing -- as the tastes of the main dish and the salad clashed.

The Primo Pasta salad was your basic three-color rotini with generous amounts of sliced cheese, salami, olives and lots of plump shrimp piled high on top. It was refreshing to get this with a dill dressing (with fresh dill, no less) and not the tiresome Italian dressing with which one so often gets saddled. The cool shrimp had a good, clean flavor and provided a nice de la mer touch to an otherwise basic (but delicious) pasta salad.

The dainty Cary Grant's Judy sandwich was a satisfying little triple-decker with lots of complimentary savory, salty and tangy flavors (beefy, bacon-y, bleu cheesy) on sturdy, lightly toasted wheat bread. Damn tasty, it was. While ordering, we told the waitress we were going to split it, and so she brought it to us neatly divided and served on two plates, each with its little pile of chips -- a thoughtful touch.

For the last seven years, Crickets Deli has been owned and operated by Sam and Karen Yi, whose friendliness and strict attention to detail is reflected in the tidiness of the dining room and in the obvious care with which the meals here are prepared and served.

Even though it was my first visit, they made me feel like a regular. Perhaps now I will be.

Publication date: 10/21/04

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