A Tale of Two Lunches: Harry’s Deli and Lunchbox

Today and for the next few days we’ll continue the food theme. If anything defines a city it’s the food, right? Certainly to some degree you remember the cities you visit by the food you find. A memorable meal can be savored long after the taste of the food has faded. As often as not, a treasured memory of a meal may have as much to do with the time, place, circumstance and company as the actual food itself – if the food is good. We’ve all got memories of meals with atrocious food, as well.

Urban Woman outside Harry’s Deli, 100 Block, Knoxville

Chalkboard menu at Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

I don’t often have the chance to have lunch downtown as I did with Buddy Ray at Bella Luna’s last Friday (see below), but the summer affords me a few more opportunities to leave work behind and sample the mid-day offerings of the city. So, on two consecutive days recently I visited two lunch-spots I’ve been wanting to investigate, but hadn’t been able to catch open: Harry’s Deli on the 100 Block and the Lunchbox in their new location on Market Street.

At Harry’s we were greeted by a very friendly and informative young man at the counter who went to considerable lengths to make sure that we understood what we were about to eat would be fresh, local and made in the deli. He said the only thing from a can would be the mustard, which was fine with me, since I can’t stand mustard.

Interior of Harry’s Deli, Gay Street, Knoxville

The space is pretty straightforward with good photographs of downtown sights and sites lining the walls. The tables and chairs are comfortable and simple. When we visited, there were very few customers, though we may have been a bit late for a lunch crowd. It was a bit of a concern to me. They also serve fresh breakfast and that may be more heavily frequented.

Pasta with meat sauce special, Harry’s Deli

Lox on fresh bread, Harry’s Deli, Knoxville

My wife ordered the daily special, which was a pasta with a meat sauce. I ordered Lox simply because I’ve heard of Lox, know it is a Jewish dish and, as a tip of the hat to Harold’s Kosher Deli which used to be on the same spot, it seemed like a good thing to do. The pasta was delicious (we shared) and the Lox were very good (we didn’t share: Urban Woman does no uncooked fish). I don’t have anything to which I might compare the Lox and I don’t think they will make my top ten list of favorite foods, but it was good and the bread was obviously fresh. We’d had the bread before, as it is sometimes available at Just Ripe. Our total with drinks was around $22 for two.

Food for dine-in or take-out at the Lunchbox, Knoxville

Casual seating at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Art at the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

The next day we ate at the Lunchbox on Market Square. The restaurant has been downtown since 1981, has two other locations and caters, so it is quite the operation. The food there is packaged for take-out or eat-in, though it’s also made fresh in the store. My wife got a sausage quiche which came with mixed-fruit and a muffin. I got a Southwest Chicken Wrap. The quiche and wrap were both excellent and the staff checked in with us several times to make sure we had everything we needed. Interesting art lined the walls and a good-sized crowd took food out or dined in. Our total with drinks was a more modest $18.

Southwestern Chicken Wrap, Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville

Quiche (slightly eaten) at Lunchbox, Knoxville

I could easily recommend both places. I’ve enjoyed a number of delis in New York City and while a true NYC aficionado might challenge me, I think each of these places, in its own way, compares favorably to what I had there. I worry a bit about Harry’s. Lunchbox has a long history, a location in the center of downtown workers, slightly lower prices and easily taken-out food. Harry’s set up is different with their emphasis on organic and local food, but with slightly higher prices on a block in which their neighbors Unarmed Merchants are going out of business, I’m a bit concerned for their future.

So, as always, it’s up to you: Do you want a great deli on the 100 block? There’s only one way to make sure they stay. I’ll try to catch them for breakfast soon, if possible, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

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