Neal’s Deli is my home away from home in Chapel Hill. I’ve become so familiar with the staff and the location that it is a genuinely comforting place to be.
I remember first hearing about Neal’s Deli in a New York Times "36-hours in Chapel Hill" that came out before my sophomore year at UNC started. I walked there early one morning with some friends and I was hooked. I didn’t start by going as much as I do now, but if I was heading to Carrboro before 4 p.m. when they close, I was sure to stop in.
Then in my junior year, I brought my car to school and began going fairly regularly.
Almost every weekend, typically on Sundays around 11 a.m., you’ll find me in line ordering the same thing — a Reuben to go.
The Reuben is the perfect proportions of well seasoned, tender pastrami and creaminess from the kraut and dressing. I couldn’t more highly recommend it.
I routinely defend the sandwich when my Northern friends say you can't get decent pastrami in the South. I always say that Neal’s isn’t trying to be a New York deli. They’ve fully incorporated the Southern flavors in the area. They serve some of the best grits and biscuits I’ve had in Chapel Hill — or anywhere, honestly.
As editor, I’ve met with sources or community members there. When I hear a friend hasn’t gone, I will make them go with me, at least to try it (and without fail, they love it). I even have taken my parents on several occasions, foregoing asking them to take me someplace I usually can’t afford.
I’ve been there enough that I don’t even give them my name anymore, almost every employee knows it already. They’ve even recognized me based off of my occasional columns in this publication. Which, for me at least, creates a feeling of belonging to the restaurant, showing that the employees actually take note and appreciate their customers.
My Reubens, however, are numbered. I am about to graduate and every time I go there I know that my weekend routine is coming to a close. But don't worry — I know that as an alum, any stop in the Chapel Hill will require going to Neal's.
I fully plan on getting a graduation photo taken in front of their location — it’s been that defining of a location to my college experience.
So to the Neal’s crew, thank you. Especially this year, my life has been more stressful than I could’ve ever predicted, but you’ve always been there.
I’ll see you on Sunday.
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