A grim commute can have a great outcome. When Bernard Socha finally rebelled against his daily drive to work, Fairfax City gained a lively delicatessen.
Socha and a business partner owned the venerable Wagshal's deli in Northwest Washington. After 16 years of commuting from Burke, Socha sold his share of the business but kept some recipes and the right to use the Wagshal's name on his menu. He set up shop in a former convenience store at Chain Bridge Road and School Street, much closer to home, and he named the new place after himself. It opened last March. His son and his wife help out at the deli, which does mostly carryout business but also has a handful of tables.
Bernie's has all three meals covered. There's a short breakfast menu, and for dinner a rotating assortment of daily grab-and-go specials to reheat at home. But the main focus is the long list of made-to-order hot and cold sandwiches ($3.49 to $9.99), which hews pretty closely to the offerings back at Socha's former shop. Most sandwiches are sold in two sizes: regular and, for $2 more, "NY size," with a half-pound of meat.
With the exception of some desserts and pastries, almost all of the food is made in-house. That includes the salads ($5.95 to $7.50), the daily-special soups and chili ($2.99 small, $4.99 medium, $8.99 large) and the delectable corned beef that Socha says "takes four or five days if you do it right." He's definitely doing it right, and the best way to experience it is in Sandwich #175, with cole slaw and Russian dressing ($5.99). The slaw is the perfect creamy complement to the meat; Socha favors it on marble rye.
Another good choice is the hot meatball sub: hefty Italian meatballs, marinara sauce that is a little on the sweet side and melted provolone cheese, all on a house-made baguette that's firm and crusty but easy to bite into ($6.49). For old time's sake, there's a retro cream cheese and olive sandwich ($3.49); "no one does that anymore," Socha says.
House-made deli salads are varied and good. The jumbo shrimp salad ($19 per pound) is another admirable Wagshal's transplant: large, nicely cooked shrimp that retain their snap and flavor in a light dressing of mayonnaise, lemon, celery and parsley.
Among the hot carryout foods, Socha says the beer-can chicken is a customer favorite. The bird ($8.99 whole, $4.99 half) is coated with a spice-and-brown-sugar rub and roasted over a container of beer. It emerges a little spicy, a little sweet and still moist. Shepherd's pie ($6.99) is a filling comfort-food combo of beef and mixed vegetables under layers of mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese. Baked macaroni and cheese ($4.99 a pint) is gooey and good.
Also worth taking out are the rice pudding ($2.49 per half-pint) and bread pudding ($1.99 per serving), the latter accompanied by a light and buttery bourbon sauce.
Socha has big plans for the place, which also stocks gourmet foods and wine. He wants to hold wine tastings, add a specialty cheese counter and, when the weather warms up, provide tables outdoors.
-- Jane Touzalin (Good to Go, Feb. 18, 2009)