Ode to Cecil’s

Each time I return to Highland Park, I try to finagle my way over to Cecil’s Deli. This is the deli I grew up on, the deli that is a fixture in my family, the deli that brings back a lifetime of memories…and delectable sandwiches.

My mom’s family has lived in Highland Park for many years and started our adoration for Cecil’s. My parents would occasionally arrange to stop by the deli and bring home some dinner fixins. Here was our typical order: 12 egg bagels, 2 small tubs of Philly cream cheese, 1 pound extra-lean corned beef and a quart of Cecil’s special cole slaw. This was always a big deal to us because it was the one meal selection we could all agree on, kids and parents alike. When my sister became pregnant with her daughter many years later, her pregnancy cravings were intensely related to Cecil’s. Rumor has it she dropped by there every day for lunch during a 10 week period. A few years later after my grandma was diagnosed with Cancer, she wouldn’t eat a thing. On one cold March night, I dropped by her place with a sandwich from Cecil’s – she ate the WHOLE thing. My aunt, a nurse, couldn’t believe it. It was a small victory during a very sad time.

Cecil’s isn’t necessarily the type of place you bring someone you really want to impress. Their deli counter sits in a cramped spot, where you have to reassert your place in line constantly while standing between their metal racks of Kosher groceries. If you pay with a credit card, they lead you, fighting through the other patrons, to a separate counter containing the sole credit card machine. As for their restaurant, walk past the groceries and the coolers and you’ll find it. A word of caution, the restrooms are located behind the kitchen, so yes, you have to walk by the guy making your Reuben to get to the loo. If you hover at the dining room entrance for a minute, someone will grab you and show you to one of their 30 or so light brown standard-issue restaurant tables. Over your table sits a large framed photograph by popular St. Paul photographer Walter Kvasnik, best known for weddings, family portraiture and senior high school pics. They rotate in new photos nearly every year and have done so ever since I was little.

As uncomfortable as I’ve made it sound, Cecil’s is one of the most comfortable places I find myself in the way of an eatery. The people there are so friendly – many of them are even related to each other. They recognize you after a few visits and welcome you back. Don’t be afraid if your server is a big burly guy, standing 6’4 with a shock of red beard and a deep baritone request for your order – he won’t bite. In fact, he’s a master of refills and he’s happy to bring something back to the kitchen if it’s not right.

So do they have food, you ask? Cecil’s meats are wonderfully lean and their bread is freshly made on site everyday. You can create your own sandwich or choose one of their award-winning concoctions. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. But form your own opinion – I’m simply too biased! Cecil’s is more than just another St. Paul institution to me…a small part of me always lives there in that tiny white building on Cleveland.

3 Comments so far

  1. Dave Dash (unregistered) on August 31st, 2006 @ 6:11 am

    Yummm :) Thanks for the tip… I really wish there were a good deli in Minne’.

  2. Adam (unregistered) on August 31st, 2006 @ 2:52 pm

    Oh yes. San Francisco isn’t really a deli town, but I loooooove Cecil’s, and get a Reuben whenever I go back there. Shoot, now I’m hungry. Maybe I’ll go over to Saul’s for dinner; I’ve been meaning to try them.

    Ah, I see you describe yourself as a “St. Pauli Girl” in your profile–you might like this.

  3. Heather K (unregistered) on August 31st, 2006 @ 3:28 pm

    Great photo – that’s hilarious. Maybe I could mail you a Cecil’s Reuben?

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