A little slice of home recently landed in the college town of Newark, Delaware, in the form of Groucho's Deli, a sandwich shop hailing from my very own hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. But how did a deli that was started in South Carolina in 1941 end up in Delaware? According to a Delaware News Journal article, David Richardson, the owner of the Delaware Groucho's (now a franchise with all but just a few location in South Carolina), grew up in Columbia, but his wife, who is from Delaware, wanted to move back to The First State, and so they brought Groucho's with them.
The history behind Groucho's goes that Harold Miller (nicknamed Groucho because of his resemblance to Groucho Marx with his mustache, cigars, and joking demeanor) dreamed up the recipe for coleslaw, potato salad, and salad dressings while he was still a child in a Philadelphia orphanage. Groucho took those dreams with him to Columbia, and in 1941 opened what was one of only a few Jewish-style delis in the area.
I know Groucho's very well. Their subs were one of maybe only two non-home cooked meals my family would eat at our kitchen table. It was always such a treat when my Mom decided to go down to, at the time, the one and only location of Groucho's on Harden St., Columbia's own college area, to pick up an order of subs to bring back home. As I perused the rack of exotic chocolate bars and tins of hard candies in the gourmet grocery section that was a deli fixture only up until the the 1980's, my Mom was at the counter getting winks and a discount from Groucho who mistakenly believed my Mom to be Jewish.
What we took home was Groucho's signature sandwich, the STP Dipper, a soft, long roll filled with melted cheese and mounds of warm turkey and roast beef topped with crumbled bacon. God, these were good! But that was when I ate meat.
As a vegetarian, Groucho's doesn't have much of interest for me — various salads (actually not bad, but they aren't part of my childhood memory), and a couple of sandwiches filled with cheese and veggies either on a roll, sliced bread, or in a pita. About every couple of years I'll order a veggie sub just to jog the memory of the excitement of taking a trip down to the deli with my Mom and eating this sacred food of my youth.
And, so, I visited the Newark Groucho's to pay homage to my youth and ordered the veggie Italian sub. Slices of four kinds of cheese — Provolone, Swiss, Muenster, and sharp American — are melted on a soft roll, then topped with chopped lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. It's basically a salad on top of a roll with melted cheese, and it's a little hard to eat without using a fork to eat some of the salad first.What is strikingly different at Groucho's from all the hoagie and sub shops in the Delaware Valley is the softness of the bread. The bread is cloud-like and can be easily squished down into virtually nothing, a far cry from the sturdier, crusty breads of a hoagie or sub from around these parts. I know y'all are staunch about the firmness of your hoagie and sub rolls, and even which bakery supplies the bread, so the bread at Groucho's is really going to throw y'all for a loop.
You also won't find any broccoli rabe or chunks of sharp Provolone at Groucho's. These are not traditional Italian hoagies. Nor are Groucho's specialty sandwiches typical Jewish deli fare. What you will find is Formula 45 sauce, which is pretty much Groucho's claim to fame.Formula 45 sauce is a secret blend of Thousand Island and Russian dressings along with dill and spices. It's up to you, dear eater, to either employ the dressing as a dip for the sandwich or as a spread to slather inside the sandwich. Groucho's and their Formula 45 sauce is the reason I am such a huge proponent of special sauce — or any sauce — on sandwiches.
Formula 45 sauce even caused rifts in the deli sandwich eating community of Columbia when a former employee of Groucho's opened Andy's Deli a few blocks away from Groucho's with a strikingly similar menu and special sauce. Groucho's and Andy's is Columbia's own Pat's and Geno's, but the rivalry is more subdued, and no guidos line up on the sidewalk for a sandwich.Groucho's thinks their Formula 45 sauce is so good they put it on almost all of their specialty sandwiches. For 60 cents you can get a small side of Formula 45 to slather on their other sandwiches, and if you find yourself as smitten with Formula 45 as much as I am, you can even pick up a pint for $5 to take home.
Are you, birthrighters of the hoagie, going to love Groucho's sandwiches? I don't know. I invite you to wipe all notions of what you think is a proper sub or hoagie out of your head, go into Groucho's, and, if you eat meat, order the STP with Formula 45 thinking of it as nothing more than a sandwich.
Besides the STP Dipper and veggie Italian sub mentioned here, Groucho's also serves a wide variety of salads, clubs and deli sandwiches, including low-fat options.
P.S. Delaware's own Capriotti's (also now a franchise) still makes my favorite vegetarian sub — they have veggie turkey, for cryin' out loud, and, yeah, I prefer the sturdier bread — but when I order mine I have Capriotti's make it with Russian dressing. Just a little secret I learned from Groucho's.
170 E. Main St., Newark, DE 19711