Sliced Cuban

The Cuban sandwich at Sliced Deli comes on thick, square Cuban bread that gets pressed with all the requisite ingredients inside: chunks of roasted pork, grilled deli ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. 

Sliced Deli is that rare, independently-run antidote to fast food. But people have been slow to catch on.

Longtime Arby’s franchisee Kevin Breitfelder closed his Gammon Road store a year ago and turned it into Sliced Deli, with a menu that includes reasonably-priced build-your-own sandwiches, soups, salads, and items you don’t often find at a sandwich shop, such as bratwurst and gyros.

During two recent dinner visits, I couldn’t help but think it would probably do well in a neighborhood where people could better embrace it. Sliced was quiet except for a handful of drive-thru orders. Breitfelder acknowledges business is “slow and steady.”

“We’re picking up a little steam, but there’s no rocket ships into outer space for us yet,” he said.

Sliced dining room

The dining room at Sliced Deli is adorned with artificial flowers.

Its location just off the Beltline is actually handy — particularly during rush hour — because it has its own turn lane when people approach from the highway. But travelers, shoppers and others looking for a name brand will likely avoid the unfamiliar Sliced.

Still, Breitfelder, who spent 27 years working for Arby’s, said he’s glad he made the change. “It’s much more enjoyable for me, even though the profits aren’t really where I need them to be yet.”

If you want “enjoyment,” go with the Cuban sandwich ($5.99), which is new to the menu and listed on a chalkboard. It comes on thick, square Cuban bread that gets pressed with all the requisite ingredients inside: chunks of roasted pork, grilled deli ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. No Big Mac or Whopper can top this.

Less special, but also worthwhile, was the smoked brisket sandwich ($4.99) with tender meat and the right amount of barbecue sauce, along with onion strings and a hint of Gouda cheese. The chicken cordon bleu ($4.99) was another good choice, with breaded, juicy chicken; a thin layer of ham; and Swiss cheese. Both sandwiches had the right amount of mayo and were served on sturdy, but soft, split-top buns, which made them easy to cut and share.

A vegetarian friend ordered what was really his only option, a build-your-own sandwich ($3.99). He said it was OK, but noted that Subway offers many more vegetable choices.

Two sides: onion rings ($2.49) and mozzarella sticks ($2.99 for four), didn’t let us down. The onion rings had a tasty batter and weren’t super greasy, and the mozzarella sticks had a breading that was thick, but not overly so. Marinara sauce on the side was welcome.

The best side for the health conscious is the modestly-priced side salad ($1.99) with iceberg and romaine lettuce, chopped tomato and shredded cheddar. The balsamic vinaigrette on the side worked well.

Sliced sunroom

Sliced Deli features a sunroom.

Two children at the table were happy with their orders — a hot dog with ketchup and a PB&J, which turned out to be the crustless Smuckers kind my daughter enjoys. The kid options are $4.49 and come with a side, a drink and dessert. The fries one of the girls got were just fine and not overly salty.

Regular iced tea ($1.75 for a small) and sweet tea are available from canisters on a counter. I mixed the two together for a medium-sweet effect.

Breitfelder offers some familiar products such as Otis Spunkmeyer and Famous Amos cookies and Smuckers, but in terms of the big picture, realizes he’s at a disadvantage with people looking for a recognizable fast-food name.

“A traveler doesn’t know what Sliced is,” he said. “They’ve never seen it before... They aren’t going to take a chance. They aren’t going to waste their time trying to figure it out.”

But, he added, “the locals love it so far. We get lots of great reviews.”

Sliced exterior

Until a year ago, Sliced Deli on Gammon Road was an Arby's restaurant. 

Breitfelder — who works 12 hours a day, seven days a week — and will likely take your order or make your food, said he recognizes the same faces, just not enough of the same faces.

Since he made the switch to Sliced, he’s only had Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter off, when the restaurant was closed. He recently took half a day for himself, he said.

Still, Breitfelder said the satisfaction he gets from work now is 10 times better than when he ran Arby’s. “There was no enjoyment from work before. I enjoy what I’m doing now.”

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.