Any well-traveled food nerd can tell you Greater Boston is blessed with a wonderfully broad restaurant scene, but for some reason, a traditional delicatessen has long been a significant gap here. Sure, there are plenty of sandwich counters slicing up Boar’s Head cold cuts, but hardly anyone corns their own beef. Every mid-range indie French, Italian and nose-to-tail American restaurant makes its own pickles, sausages, charcuterie and salumi. But the casual takeout that makes its own salami and liverwurst? Scarcer than hen’s teeth. That vacancy is painful to anyone who’s visited hallowed deli institutions like Katz’s in New York or Schwartz’s in Montreal: Surely there’s demand here for a place that pickles, smokes and steams its own pastrami, right?
Judging from the lines at Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, which opened in November in downtown Waltham, the answer is an emphatic “Hell, yeah!” Granted, Moody’s is not an Eastern European Jewish deli—you won’t find knishes, kishka or kugel here. Its approach is more eclectic, embracing Ashkenazi, French, Spanish, Italian, American and other methods, producing a breathtaking range of cold cuts, pâtés, sausages and other pickled, cured, smoked and/or fermented foodstuffs in its own wholesale production operation, New England Charcuterie, conveniently located in its back room.
The densely packed deli, fridge and freezer cases, shelves and stacks of gourmet groceries, and ceilings hung with aging sausages present a maze best initially navigated through Moody’s menu of made-to-order sandwiches. The aptly named Katz ($12.50) is a fine start: a pile of superb, fatty pastrami with hot mustard-pickle relish and Swiss cheese on excellent rye. (Most breads and rolls are supplied by Cambridge’s inestimable Iggy’s.) The Beast ($10) is a similarly high pile of thin-sliced roast beef, here given a messy, delightful layering of flavors with horseradish crema, fontina and onion marmalade on crusty white. Joshua’s Bologna ($10), namesake of chef/owner Joshua Smith, features brash accompaniments (housemade truffle chips, honey mustard and housemade habanero pickles) that might overwhelm the delicate flavor of the salume were it not laid on so generously.
The pork roll breakfast sandwich ($5.50) features one of the more manageable portion sizes here, showcasing Smith’s version of the Spam-like “Taylor ham” beloved by Jerseyites, Philadelphians and Ween fans, layered with scrambled egg, cheese and spicy ketchup on an oversized English muffin. The banh mi ($12.50) is the goateed-Spock version of the light, veggie-centric Vietnamese original: thick layers of seared pork belly, smoked shoulder, coarse pork pâté, creamy chicken-liver mousse, fresh cilantro and mint, shredded pickled veggies and citrusy/fiery sriracha aioli on a long ciabatta roll. Its heft and richness make it a trencherman’s delectable challenge. Far simpler but as impressive is Dave’s Corned Beef ($11.50), with its absolutely sublime rendition of thin-sliced pickled brisket, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on rye.
Retail groceries include some lovely small-producer cheeses, pastas, vinegars and oils. But the real reason to shop here are the housemade goods: scores of refrigerated and frozen cured meats, cold cuts and sausages, as well as prepared soups, meat sauces, kimchi and pickles, plus kitchen staples like meat stocks, garlic puree and lard. We brought home and were mightily impressed by spicy sopressata ($25/pound), coppa ($42/pound), lomo ($49/pound), saucisson sec ($22/pound), Tuscan salami ($25/pound), bierwurst ($9/pound) and Texas-style hot links ($10/pound). The occasionally eye-popping prices are partly attributable to the same high production costs that have forced many traditional small delis out of business in recent decades. Moody’s also sources its animals from small, sustainable local farms rather than huge factory operations. Most often, though, the quality eases the sting: That costly lomo (Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin) compares favorably with imported jamón ibérico that retails locally for four times as much.
The eat-in dining setup is a bit tight, with maybe 20 seats between the banquette seating by the sunny front windows and the long communal table wedged by the deli counter and retail refrigerated cases. The staff is uniformly solicitous, eager to take orders and offer assistance, making the best case for retail purchases by handing out copious samples. Whether stuffed into a sandwich to eat on the spot, or bagged for the home kitchen or grill, Moody’s meats make a compelling case for the wonders (and sometimes steep costs) of the old-school ways, and in so doing vaults Greater Boston into a rarified tier: We’re now a place with a destination delicatessen.
-Dave’s Corned Beef
Hours: Tue.-Sat., 7 am-7 pm
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Street and nearby public lot
Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, 468 Moody St., Waltham (781-216-8732) moodyswaltham.com