My experience with Lucky Dill had been limited to Lucky Dill Deli Central, where I've had a few decidedly mediocre meals. Lucky Dill sold that spot back in 2000, and a popular LD outpost in downtown Tampa closed in 2008, leaving the only real, true and original Lucky Dill at the corner of Alderman and Alt 19 in Palm Harbor, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
[image-1]The place is jammed at noon on a weekday, conversation from the full tables in the dining room creating a dull roar throughout the space. People are lined up out the door, with more streaming in and out with takeout sandwiches and platter for working lunches. Lucky Dill is popular with the locals, no doubt. But is it worth the drive from Bay area regions to the south?
I ask Jason Mitow, son of owner Kimberly Mitow, to have the server bring me a wide selection of the restaurant's best food. The food parade starts off as you might expect from a self-described NY-style deli: a reuben stacked high with two layers of thin-sliced pastrami surrounding a central core of sauerkraut; rosy corned beef with a little line of cole slaw to add a bit of crunch; a puddle of clear chicken broth surrounding a massive, tender matsoh ball. Although Lucky Dill sources a lot of its meat from the ubiquitous Boar's Head, the restaurant isn't dominated by one meat merchant. Mitow brings more specialty meats -- including the pastrami and corned beef, among others -- from traditional producers like National Deli and Hebrew National. That concern for finding the best stuff available shows in the sandwiches, which easily compete with those found at big NYC names. They are also easily the best deli sandwiches I've had in the Bay area.
There are also blintzes and knish, more sandwiches that range from standards to more Floridian takes on deli combinations, and a surprising array of more serious prepared foods.
Like a simple dish of meatballs covered in marinara and melted provolone, with a dollop of ricotta on top. No need for pasta here -- that's just filler. These incredibly tender, well-seasoned balls are the star, meshing perfectly with the bright tomato sauce, gooey cheese and surprisingly excellent fresh ricotta. Stack a bite on the garlic toasts on the side if you feel the need for meatball vehicle.
Those are astoundingly tasty, but meat-lovers will find it difficult to choose between the balls and the loaf. Lucky Dill's meatloaf is crammed with smoky, spicy sausage, adding an immense amount of addictive flavor to the tender slice of loaf. Even with a table overloaded by almost a dozen plates of food, my fork keeps wandering back to both of those serious meat dishes.
Salads are huge and filled with sparkling fresh vegetables, but the real winner of the bunch is one that takes advantage of the deli's proximity to the Greek community in Tarpon Springs. Lucky Dill's Greek salad is a massive pile of greens, peppers, olives and feta, topped by shrimp that are surprisingly large and cooked as well as at any serious fine-dining spot. Underneath all that is a large foundation of the deli's traditional but incredibly rich potato salad.
Lucky Dill also serves enormous double-decker burgers, a variety of soups and pretty much everything else you'd expect from a full-service deli that also knocks out stellar, homey prepared foods. It's a great place, but it looks like it is going to get even better.
According to Mitow, Lucky Dill is planning on moving to a new spot later this year that will more than double the interior space, drastically increase the size of the deli's admittedly tiny kitchen and have a full-service bar area. Although decreasing wait times will be nice, he's more excited about what the deli will be able to do with a bigger kitchen, like preparing its own corned beef, expanding its non-sandwich items and offering more catering. And, since this original Lucky Dill moved to the current digs on its 10-year anniversary, the time is just about perfect for another expansion.
And I'm surprised that I'm actually excited about this little Palm Harbor restaurant's move. I've come full circle, from concern about writing a glowing review for some random ho-hum restaurant to delight at discovering a place that I'd never even considered visiting, mainly because it's so damn far away. With a bigger dining room in a bigger space, that means I won't have to stand in line when I make the trek from Tampa Bay proper to my favorite deli.
Five stars for Lucky Dill Deli? Sure. And big thanks for winning this auction lot.