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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - A Deli-cious Way to Spend a Ditch Day

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

The daily grind of life can be a drag. And every so often, you need a place to blow off steam and forget about your worries for a little while. Tired soul, meet your rejuvenator – thy name is Hollingshead’s Delicatessen.

Now you’re thinking, who in their right mind would go to a deli to charge the batteries? Well, Hollingshead’s is no ordinary deli. Although Hollingshead’s has certain European-style deli tendencies, with sandwiches full of high-quality meats and cheeses, and other assorted imported food products, it’s also part beer boutique. It features more than 350 different styles of specialty beers, 15 frequently rotated taps across the spectrum of styles, and a small bar counter. But beyond the good food and beverage, it’s a place where regulars go to hang out, and the help treats you like family. It’s part Cheers, part Central Perk, part Monk’s Café.

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Based in an Orange strip mall since opening in 1963, Hollingshead’s is family-owned and operated, with three generations of Hollingshead family members still working behind the counter or bussing tables. As native Wisconsinites (as evidenced by the wall-to-wall Green Bay Packer memorabilia, including green bar stools with yellow trim and ceiling posters of Brett Favre), they bring their Midwest friendliness to their customers: you can always count on a warm smile and conversation, as they enjoy visiting with patrons and catching up on life. And since they offer personalized beer mugs for their frequent visitors, it’s always a place where everybody knows your name.

Needing my own respite from the hustle, I took a "sick day" last Friday and spent a couple of hours at Hollingshead's clearing my head (of brain cells), along with the other barflies that don't work day-shifts or have employers which don't mind a little drinky-drink during the lunch hour. I was warmly greeted by three different people while I perused the menu, which consists of a selection of eight types of meat, six types of cheese, and six types of bread, as well as custom sandwiches filled with assorted ingredients. I finally settled on a 'demon', an outstanding combination of smoked turkey, pastrami, and Jarlsberg swiss on an onion roll (pastrami is one of my guilty pleasures), and an 'angel', which was filled with roast beef, baked ham, and smoked gouda. The freshness of the ingredients livened up the taste buds which are normally dulled down by eating craptastic Subway sandwiches on a typical workday. I also got a quarter-pint of some excellent potato salad, which was mustard-based (much better than heavy mayo-based, imho) and seemed to be slightly sweetened with pickle juice.

Of course, many places offer great sandwiches. However, most of those places don't give you the option of a quality draft microbrew to wash it down. Another great thing about Hollingshead's is that they are as knowledgeable about their beer as they are friendly with their clientele. They'll speak intelligently about the merits of the Green Flash Imperial IPA versus the Stone Imperial Russian Stout, or any of the beers in their large refrigerated section. They're so passionate about beer that orders are assigned by beer brand, rather than number (using laminated beer labels rather than order tickets). And like any seller who takes their beer seriously, they give you a taster shot before pouring you a pint to make sure that your selection (or their recommendation) suits your palate. I am a medium-body guy, so they offered me up a seasonal Lagunitas Lucky 13 Red Ale, which had a slight hops bitter taste, but was also sweet and smooth, complementing my sandwiches. I finished my meal with an Allagash White, a Belgian-style wheat beer from Maine with a hint of orange and cardamom, that was a little less my taste but a good light dessert beer.

Now for the bad news. Since Hollingshead's is a family institution, it's closed on weekends. The store also shuts down at 8 pm on Monday through Thursday and at 9 pm on Friday. Thus, it will require a special daytime visit or suffering through rush hour traffic for anyone coming down from LA. And because everyone is so friendly, they are a bit more casual about service, so some patience may be required while you wait for them to attend to your order.

Despite these inconveniences, Hollingshead's is well worth the effort if you can manage it. Not only did I get a good meal and top-notch drinks, but I was able to commiserate with other drunks strangers (men and women, young and old) who just came to chill out, complain about their bosses, and talk about UFC. It was like therapy; I went in feeling tired and stressed out and left feeling renewed for at least one more week. Or maybe it was just the beer talking.

Hollingshead's Delicatessen
368 S. Main St.
Orange, CA 92868