At the corner of Twinbrook Parkway and Chapman Avenue in Rockville, Tim and Johnna Gilchrist have turned a narrow strip-mall tenancy into their vision of a delicatessen. Working weekends and evenings after his first job as a PE teacher, Tim has been helping his wife slowly renew the space since last summer. While the black-and-white-checked vinyl tile and the EZ Shoppes Deli sign reflect a somewhat gritty past, the two continue to polish their little gem. A new logo soon will update the storefront; upgrades have become as much of the couple's daily process as ordering their next beer delivery.
Inside, old 7-Up and Coca-Cola refrigerators house the usual mix of sodas alongside an impressive selection of cold beers ranging from the familiar Sam Adams and Guinness to the lesser-known Lancaster Hop Hog IPA. And this is where Gilly's Craft Beer & Fine Wine departs from typical delis. For a $2 corkage fee, any beer can be consumed on-site. If none of the beers in the coolers jumps out at you, ask Tim what he has on tap: The selection changes as each keg is emptied. Gilly's also offers wines by the glass ($5 to $10) that do their best to span the globe rather than meander around any single region.
A relationship with the Dogfish Head Alehouse ensures an ample selection of the local brewery's beer, but Tim also seeks out his own finds. In the back of the shop near coolers that hold additional six-packs lies a collection of large bottled imports. Maredsous tripels from Belgium, Ommegang stouts from New York and other specialty brews proved difficult to procure. Orders placed in June when the shop opened have only now begun to trickle in.
Customers have been coming in more steadily. A holiday surge rendered the deli case a ghost town, but Johnna promised that more meats, olives and cheeses were on the way. Above the case, chalkboards detail events, specials and a menu full of amply portioned and reasonably priced sandwiches, some with quirky twists.
Timmy G's Ham Cruncher ($4.99), for instance, includes a fair portion of smoked ham, cheddar cheese and a pile of Cheetos. Yes, Cheetos. The hearty crunch juxtaposes a soft, yielding Italian roll or a choice of other breads, and the play on texture works surprisingly well. Tim says the creation is a throwback to his grandmother; most of the menu pays homage to family and friends.
Katie's Brie ($4.99) nods to a sibling still in college who helps out at the shop while home on breaks. The youthful creation pairs the same smoked ham with sliced brie on toasted whole-wheat bread. A dash of maple syrup adds a sweetness that makes the sandwich seem almost breakfasty and appeals to the child within.
If you're not feeling playful, the simply named Italian ($5.99) delivers just what one would expect, especially if you're a purist. The same pillowy Italian roll cradles smaller portions of deli meat, but the elevated flavors of salami, capacola and hot calabrese make up for its lack of girth.
That you can enjoy a cold one while you shop or wait for your sandwich places Gilly's in a category all its own.
-- Scott Reitz (Good to Go, Jan. 7, 2009)