When Keller’s Deli opened up at the corner of 7th and Grand in the old spot first made famous by George Formaro’s South Union Bread Cafe, I was hoping that it might offer something new. The restaurants that took over the 7th and Grand space after George moved and expanded his operation three blocks to the west at the Temple for the Performing Arts tried to carry on the same tradition with few changes to the menu — but they didn’t have George. Apparently, the missing ingredient was George, as the replacement operations came and went as crowds eventually thinned out. You have to have been there when George Formaro started the South Union Bread Cafe to know that he made every sandwich himself. I’m not kidding. I never saw anybody else take over sandwich making. At the time, I could not understand why. After all, how hard can it be to warm some meat and stuff it in between some wonderful South Union bread? He had a whole staff standing there watching, but George had to do the real work on every sandwich. I should have understood because every sandwich was a wonderful eating experience and I went back time and time again like an addict.
High Hopes. So, when I visted Keller’s I had some high hopes. I was not expecting it to be a cookie-cutter copy of the South Union Bread Cafe, mind you. My hope was that this could be the launchpad for a new spot that could carve its own niche among the downtown lunch places. And trust me, downtown needs some new lunch opportunities.
The Corned Beef. I started off on my first visit with a Reuben ($6.99). I was amazed because I’d never had corned beef quite like this. This is not some thin deli sliced stuff. No, this is thick, chunky corned beef, dripping with corned beef goodness. I was so amazed with this corned beef that I decided that this surely must be a fluke. Nobody would make something this good every time. So, I withheld writing a review until I could get back. On the next visit, I ordered up a Corned Beef & Swiss ($9.99 or $6.29) to see what corned beef did in this signature sandwich. Again, it was the same amazing corned beef. I decided that I had to go back and try the Reuben again, so I did. Again, it was the same chunky corned beef goodness. I’ve now been there many more times since it first opened and I can testify that the corned beef is out of this world every time. Cameron Keller told me that he brines the meat for seven to ten days.
The owner. So, who is behind this new venture? You need to get to know Cameron Keller. If his corned beef is any indication (and I suggest that it is), then he is a rising star in the Des Moines food world. He received his training from the French Culinary Institute in New York where he studied artisan and sourdough baking. He has been cooking his own artisan breads at Bagni di Lucca before starting this venture.
The space. With the complete closing of Boesen’s florist next door, Keller’s has expanded to take over the entire space. The dining area is now large enough to accommodate large crowds or even special events.
So, did it meet my hopes? Absolutely. If you want a rare treat, do yourself a favor and stop by Keller’s. Tell them that Distilled Opinion ordered you to visit. Order either the Corned Beef & Swiss or the Reuben to start. Then move on to the Meatball sandwich. It is all good. I’m not a soup guy, but Cameron Keller was earnest when he suggested that I try the soup. Jim Duncan must be a soup guy because he raves about the soup in his quick review. So, try the soup and let me know what you think of it.
For those of you who might get lost trying to find Keller’s Deli, it is tucked under the 7th Street Parking Garage at the Northwest corner of 7th and Grand.
Keller’s Deli Bakery Cafe
Lunch Hours: 10:30am – 2pm
623 Grand (7th and Grand)
Des Moines, IA 50309