Atmosphere: Soft-pedaled, New York-styled deli.
Prices: Big meal-sized sandwiches in the $3 to $4 range. Dinners from $3.95 to $6.50.
Credit cards: Visa, Master Charge. Personal checks from local banks will be cashed with identification.
Reservations: None needed.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and ll a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.
Special facilities:Parking at curbside. Accessible to the handicapped. Booster seats available.
Some people say the Shirlington Shopping Center is dead - gone the way of the wooly mammoth - as Northern Virginia's shinier, glossier malls open further out in suburbialand. But one part of the old shopping center is still thriving - the Shirlington Deli, founded in 1945 by the Marin family and still run by them.
As owner Florence Marin says, "We've always had our clientele and they've stuck with us, thank goodness."
We joined that happy throng one recent Friday evening, arriving at about 6:45. It wasn't jammed, but the place was nearly filled - with young parents and toddlers, old folks, couples in cutoffs.
You don't have to eat-in at the Shirlington deli. You can buy the fixings at the meat counter and build your own sandwiches at home. All sorts of other edibles, mostly of the "gourmet" variety, are displayed on silver, foil-covered shelves clustered around the deli counter, which gave us lots to look at during the few minutes we waited for a table.
Once seated, we applied the attentions of our giant-sized summer appetites to the equally giant-sized menu, which features - well, you name it. Cold platters of lox, $5.75; whitefish, $4.75, or smoked sable, $4.95. Or there's also a cold cut platter for $5.50. Or you may choose a sandwich - pastrami, corn beef, salami, on and on. When our 6-year-old spied a nearby customer eating one of these five-inch high assemblages, he said he was afraid he couldn't open his mouth wide enough to accommodate one. Believe me, his fears were unfounded.
We pondered a while, then made our selections: a kosher frank at $1 for our 3-year-old, a hot reuben, $2.95, for the older boy, an Italian sub with hot peppers, $2.90, for my husband, and I had the dinner spectal of the evening - lasagna with salad, $4.50. The boys and my husband ordered Dr. Brown's cream sodas at 40 cents apiece, the going rate for beverages at the deli.
The service is provided by a corps of black-uniformed waitresses, most of whom look kindly on children and probably have raised a few themselves. They're also an efficient group, and our food arrived soon after we ordered it - before we could finish the puzzle on presidents' and vice-presidents' names, which appeared on the paper placemats.
The kosher frank was a hit, and as far as I know, was your better basic hot dog. It disappeared before I could get a nibble. My husband, a Philadelphian who has never forgotten the pickle barrels and other threats at the delis and sub shops of his boyhood, declared the Italian sub was very good but not "Italian." He nitpicked about the softness of the roll and the absence of oregano and olive oil, and left not a scrap.
The Reuben was a great success, although a doggie bag had to be fetched for half of it. It was served with potato chips, and all of us were brought an order of yummy dill pickles to share.
My lasagna was tasty and hot, with a layer of melted mozzarella cheese oozing over its top. The salad, which preceded it was mostly iceberg lettuce, but it was fresh and fortunately not in-undated with dressing as restaurant salads so often are these days.
We concluded the meal with three eclairs, at 90 cents each, although I was hoping someone would order blintzes, which come with blueberries, cherries or cheese and cost $2.75. Oh well, maybe next time.
Our bill for the meal, without tip, came to a very reasonable $16.74 for the four of us.