2700 Jefferson Davis Highway, Alexandria 684-3354 Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Soups and appetizers $1.75 to $3.75; sandwiches and entrees $3.25 to $12.95. Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Nonsmoking areas available.
The Shirlington Deli is no longer in Shirlington, but this 20-year-old, family-run institution is still going strong, albeit at a new location. And now you can follow up your lox with laughter on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Comedy Club, which moved its mikes to the deli's 116-seat back room in the spring.
The atmosphere is informal with a fractured floor plan that may not be graceful but manages to accommodate a dining room, deli counter, bar and eating area, plus the back room.
The eclectic decor features both a train motif stained-glass window, left over from the previous tenants, and lifelike paintings of birds on two connecting walls. A line of potted ferns hangs under each of two skylights.
The menu is lengthy, chock-full of straightforward, homey food -- no baby potatoes cut to resemble mushrooms or salads designed to look like sunbursts. There are not only such deli specialties as corned beef, blintzes and noodle pudding, but also standard fare such as fried chicken, spaghetti and onion rings. It may not be the best food you've ever eaten, but some of it is quite satisfying.
To start with, the thick corned beef sandwich is better than most in the metropolitan area, but not up to what you will find in the best New York delis. The dill pickles, too, can't match the old-fashioned, barrel-cured variety, but they're pleasant, and a complimentary dish of them will be brought to your table on request.
A high point of the menu is the hot beef brisket sandwich, which is just as nostalgia dictates it should be: tasty slices of tender beef swimming in a not-too-thick gravy on two slices of white bread accompanied by creamy, homemade mashed potatoes.
The soups are generally satisfying, such as the rich, chickeny matzo ball with two dense, irregularly shaped matzo meal dumplings, a cold borscht garnished with diced beets and sour cream, and a chunky vegetable.
Two nondeli items were just okay. The spaghetti with a tangy meat sauce had little depth, and although the chicken was nicely fried, it needed seasoning.
Don't miss the onion rings with a crunchy coating covering slices of sweet onion. Other side dishes include a fresh and thinly shredded coleslaw and a sweet and buttery noodle pudding flecked with raisins but overbaked so that most of the top noodles were brittle.
Although I prefer potato pancakes with a coarse texture, the plump and hefty renditions here are tasty with a consistency similar to fried mashed potatoes. I also have a preference for blintzes that are gently pan-fried rather than the deep-fried variety served here. Nonetheless, these blintzes can be quite good and the two fruit fillings (blueberry and cherry) or the sweetened cheese make a good choice for brunch or dessert.
Other desserts include a thick, homemade rice pudding with raisins and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon or, made elsewhere, a pretty good coconut cream pie with a flaky crust and a creamy filling, and an equally pleasing, light and moist three-layer strawberry cake. Don't bother with the fruit freezes, which taste artificial.
The Shirlington Deli offers swift service, reasonable prices and, if you choose carefully, some agreeable home-style food.