Gooey goodness

Bob and Michelle Mello, pictured with grandson Nicolas and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, own Mello Deli.

Bob and Michelle Mello, pictured with grandson Nicolas and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, own Mello Deli.

Photo/Allison Young

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For many of us, lunch is often last night’s leftovers or something equally cost-conscious. If you’re not brown baggin’ it, seeking an affordable and tasty lunch can often be an exercise in disappointment. But if you get away from the chain shops and office buildings to neighborhoods where people do physically demanding work, you’ll find hearty, affordable food like that served at Mello Deli and Catering.

Beginning as a food wagon and catering operation which then moved into a tiny space at the back of a fast food joint, this family business knows how to work with what’s available. Its new, larger space isn’t fancy, but it gets the job done. A combination of picnic tables and booths provides room for perhaps 50, and the restaurant hosts catered dinners for amateur sports teams and other social groups. A 20 percent discount for vets and law enforcement is offered on all deli items.

The menu is simple and fits on a single page, featuring a short breakfast section—omelet, burrito and a couple of egg sandwiches—preceding a much larger selection of sandwiches, burgers, dogs, snacks and some surprises. If you’re a vegetarian, just ask and they’ll make you something special. If you’re in a hurry, call in your order, and they’ll bring it to your vehicle—delivery is also available to many parts of town.

The menu and signage declares this to be an Italian deli with “a taste of South Philly,” so you know my group had to try both meatball and cheesesteak sandwiches ($7 each, beverage included). Both foot-long Italian rolls were stuffed to the limit, big enough to feed two people or one extremely hungry person. The marinara wasn’t as zesty or dramatic as some—providing simple tomato flavor with a hint of garlic and seasoning to the sandwich—but the meatballs were huge and plentiful, nestled amongst provolone and parmesan.

The cheesesteak was freshly grilled, lightly seasoned, topped with onion, bell pepper and melted provolone cheese. The “whiz” style of cheesesteak is also available. I forgot to ask or specify when ordering. Then again, I’ll eat it with any cheese so long as the steak is actually steak, and the chef knows his or her stuff. Mello Deli may just be my new go-to stop for gooey goodness.

I’m a fan of daily specials that are actually special, and we were far from disappointed. A pork roast sandwich with provolone, peppers and onions served on the same Italian roll was just as enormous as the rest, while a serving of five mussels on the half-shell with a huge helping of linguine in red sauce stole the show (both specials $5, no beverage). The pasta special included half a sandwich roll split in half, broiled with garlic, seasonings, and cheese. Both dishes were delicious. This is one of the best lunch deals you’ll find, not to mention big enough to share with a friend.

There are plenty of other items to choose from, but two in particular beckoned. The panzerotti ($5.50) is described as an inside-out pizza, essentially pizza dough stuffed with sauce, cheese and/or meat, deep-fried and served with housemade dipping sauce (cheddar, parmesan, bacon bits and ranch dressing). The flavor and texture is something like a savory doughnut. It’s not remotely healthy, and I loved every bite of cheesy, pepperoni pastry. The same can be said for The Craving ($4), a grilled polish dog topped with black bean chili, onion, and a fried egg rolled up and laid on top. I should probably book a date with a cardiologist after a meal like this.

We finished things off with a giant cookie that was actually three cookies in one: oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, and chocolate chip ($1). Every dollar in cookie sales goes to benefit military veterans, a nice way to support a worthy cause while enjoying a damned good cookie the size of your head.