Pass the pork, please

Photo By David Robert

Ah, ham. The very thought of it evokes images of family dinners and slow-cooked bean soups. Maybe I am getting addled in the head, or I am falling prey to the already appearing holiday displays in stores all over town, but ham is just so homey and reassuring—that and the fact that I have never met a cured pork product I didn’t like. Whether smoked, cured, coated in brown sugar or topped with those goofy rings of canned pineapple and maraschino cherries, ham blends the sweet and the salty in delicious alchemy.

With that thought in mind, Tony and I set out to see what happens at HoneyBaked (the large chain of ham purveyors) during the off-season. Located in a large shopping center with a mega-book chain store and a mega-home stuff store, this chain fits right in. It is easy to see that during the upcoming season of wretched excess, this parking lot will be bumper to bumper with people lining up at HoneyBaked to ease the stress of big-family cooking.

The interior of the store is part deli, part retail operation and part catering facility. While there are tables for eating inside, there is still the feeling that you are having your lunch inside a store. That is not all that bad, especially if you enjoy perusing maple syrup and porcelain serving platters for pre-baked ham and turkey while you eat. It was pretty quiet the day we went, the only other customers being a set of older ladies enjoying slices of berry pie.

Obviously, the take-out business and specia- occasion dinners are the lion’s share of this business, but I was surprised at the range of selections. Since I usually do the cooking myself, I had never really considered how much easier it would be to make a phone call and have the dinner plans taken care of. Side dishes such as cornbread dressing and sweet potato soufflé and desserts like Key Lime Pie or Double Chocolate Layer Cake could leave valuable time for socializing. (I know it is really too early, but I am already looking forward to the days of winter when my bulky sweater will hide the ills of overindulgence. I’ll promise myself that I’ll ski those pounds off. Yeah, right.)

However, we were there for sandwiches. One pleasant feature about this setup is that we know that the meats available—although there is a far more limited selection than a regular deli—would be of good quality. Tony’s sandwich, your basic ham with lettuce, cheese and tomato on wheat bread ($5.65 with a drink and a side), did not disappoint in this regard.

The ham was thickly sliced and moist without being wet and sloppy. Tangy-sweet honey mustard was spread on the thickly sliced bread, which held up well to the contents. The four-bean salad, however, was a bit of a letdown. The beans were soaked in soupy, overly sweetened vinaigrette that could have benefited greatly from being more acidic. This left it a bit one-dimensional, and it was left uneaten.

I ordered a smoked turkey breast sandwich on an egg-twist roll ($5.65 with a drink and a side). The turkey was also thickly sliced, and the roll was pleasingly chewy and eggy yellow. My side of potato salad was a much better complement to the sandwich, with a savory herb flavor and firm texture.

All in all, the deli menu could use a little more presentation, as it was a little in question if any of the sumptuous side dishes could be ordered a la carte. The sandwiches are good, but few variations on the ham, turkey and pork thing are present. What about a vegetarian sandwich?

This is a good spot for a shopping break meal, but it seems that the selection is more for the crowd at home.