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Cheap Eats; Joe's Deli offers tasty sandwiches, chicken on biscuit

You could design your own sandwich at Joe's Deli, selecting ingredients from a list of nine meat or egg choices, seven types of cheese and six kinds of bread, plus a substantial number of condiment and garnish options.

Or you could choose one of Joe's 20 specialty sandwiches, ranging from the classic 1322 Original (corned beef or pastrami piled high, with mustard on seedless rye, $7.35) to the retro Lunchbox (bologna, American cheese, crushed Fritos, ketchup and mustard, $5.95). Or you could do what I did and choose one thing from the menu and then change your mind in line when you see something more intriguing on the daily specials list.

The deli was humming when Laurie, John and I stopped by for lunch on a recent Saturday. All the selections, along with the five homemade soups of the day, are handwritten on boards behind the sandwich-assembly area, but we needed some time to think, so we grabbed paper menus and sat down at a table.

You order at the cashier, pay, get your drinks handed to you from the cooler, and sit down. Your food is delivered to your table.

We started with two cups ($2.50, bowl $3.85) of the soup, a sweet-and-sour cabbage and a turkey corn chowder. Both were brought right out, and while the cabbage soup was bursting with flavor -- first sweet, then a slightly sour finish -- and steaming hot, the thick turkey chowder was closer to room temperature. We sent it back and it emerged a few minutes later, obviously fresh from the microwave, steaming hot overall but not quite evenly heated through. It was delicious, though, with an intriguing hint of cheese.

Two side dishes -- one tuna mac and one potato salad, each $1.75 -- arrived at the same time as the soup. They looked as though they had come from different kitchens. The tuna mac was excellent, with just enough mayo, tasty tuna and minced accents of carrot, celery and pungent onion. The potato salad was made with large chunks of potato and a lot of Miracle Whip-type dressing. A lot. It was drippy, never a good thing in a potato salad. After one bite, we pushed that away.

The sandwiches were uniformly very good. The Reuben ($6.99) was made with a generous, if not enormous, portion of tender corned beef, topped with melted Lorraine Swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. It was served between slabs of fresh marble rye, moist and warm.

The tuna melt ($6.44) was also delicious, with flavorful dark-meat tuna salad topped with a layer of melted pepper jack cheese. The cheese was a bit milder than we expected, but it was flavorful.

I spent some time wondering whether I could handle the Hangover (fried capicola, provolone, sauteed onions, cherry peppers, lettuce, tomato and mayo, topped with a fried egg) before deciding on the beef on weck ($6.44). But in line I spotted a list of the day's specials, which included fried chicken on biscuits. I ordered that and in my excitement failed to get the price -- $6.75? $7.03? Whatever the price, if Joe's is making this, order it!

The two biscuits were flaky and warm; the chunk of chicken breast on each slider-and-a-half-sized sandwich was dill-brined and then fried to crispy perfection. The chicken is topped with a bright yellow honey mustard that added a slight tang. The warm biscuits, juicy, crunch-coated chicken and mustard combination is sublime.