French Bakery & Delicatessen

The Lunch Club has always been about more than food. It’s the bonding and camaraderie that friends enjoy while searching out new places to sample. “Lunch” but also “Club.”

The morning before meeting regulars Josh and Dave for lunch, my friends Jane and Scott call me from DePaul Hospital. My godson, Julian, has just been born, and Scott is hungry for a sandwich from the French Bakery. I reschedule with the guys and head out.

The French Bakery is home to the best sandwiches I’ve eaten (trust me on sandwiches—I believe heaven is paved not with gold, but with sandwiches) and some great desserts, but it’s also home to some high pressure salesmanship. Anthony Bourdain would like the personality of this place. I’m not sure that Rachel Ray would.

The secret of the French Bakery is to pretend you are in an episode of Seinfeld and  about to order soup. Proprietors George and Eli Habib are some of the best chefs in town, and they have very particular ideas about how things should be served. I usually alter my orders at restaurants. Not here. I don’t have to—the sandwiches are perfect.

Everything is also expensive, but everything is worth the price. Plus they’ll try to sell you more than you came in to eat. Again, their intentions are good—they actually think your day will be a lot happier after eating a five dollar rum ball. Just don’t eat it there—you might get pulled over. So, the second secret is that you can say no. They’ll keep asking. Just keep saying no. They actually won’t mind.

When I arrive, I’m immediately castigated for not having been there for “six months” (of course I was just there two weeks ago). After a short argument about what I am ordering, we all agree on a medium pastrami for Scott (the sandwich that made them famous), a medium steak and onion for me (which I think is even better, just like their chicken salad) and a donut for Jane (she’s not allowed solid food yet, but wants it to be the first thing she eats).

At the hospital, I finally meet Julian, and he’s beautiful and sleeping peacefully. When he smells the intoxicating sandwiches, he wakes up, perhaps sensing some of the delicious wonders that await him in his life.

Scott and I show Julian our sandwiches and tell him that as soon as he’s able, we’ll take him to the French Bakery. He seems satisfied with this promise and drifts back to sleep. We eat together and celebrate this newest member of the Lunch Club.

The French Bakery & Delicatessen is located at 4108 Granby Street, Norfolk.

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