Sandwich City: Kiefer’s Cafe

Kiefer’s Cafe
2007 Kramer Lane #105. 512-719-5550,
Hours: 7am-3pm Mon-Fri.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.18.13
Kiefer’s caught my attention because the menu says its Damn Yankee sandwich with pastrami, corned beef and salami was “Voted Best Sandwich, Austin American-Statesman.” I know that wasn’t Matthew Odam’s list, nor mine, nor Dale Rice’s before me. It’s a claim based on being No. 4 on a freelancer’s Top 5 sandwich list from 1997. Sixteen years is about 14 years past the usable shelf life of a restaurant review, because like cells in a living thing, restaurants go through cycles of deterioration and regeneration. Employees, suppliers and give-a-damn levels ebb and flow, and nobody’s quite the same 16 years later.
If I were Kiefer’s, I wouldn’t bank my reputation on the $5.49 Damn Yankee I had last week, with pastrami gone half-sour and corned beef razored so thin it lost the texture that’s part of the fun of corned beef in the first place. It’s backed up by a good French roll, but these midwinter tomatoes — especially the nub ends — are no sandwich’s friend, and the Yankee could use one about now.
No, if I were this deli tucked into an office-park metropolis, I’d try to keep my name in circulation with Kiefer’s Baller, a loud-mouthed $5.79 meatball sub with sharp-tongued marinara and a hot sauté of mushrooms, onions, black olives and green bell peppers. Kept in place with a blanket of melted provolone on a chewy sub roll, it’s part classic Italian meatball and part Philly cheesesteak, a kind of Northeastern peacemaker.
They also do good work with chicken salad, turning house-baked bird into a fresh, simple mix with mayo and sweet pickles for $4.29 with lettuce, tomato and red onion. Its only drawback was my fault, because I picked a poppyseed Kaiser instead of sourdough or rye, because everybody except me knows that the better the chicken salad, the less bread you need.
Kiefer’s hardly strikes you as a restaurant space from the outside, cut into a gray concrete building that looks like a used office furniture depot. But it opens into a big cafe space with polished floors, pastry display cases and a long counter like you’d see at an old lunchorama. The sides were solid, starting with a salad of penne pasta tossed with dried rosemary, sun-dried tomato and slivered provolone for $1.69 and continuing with a thick Southwestern chowder with shredded chicken, tomato, celery and carrots in a thick tomato base with cheese and tortilla chips for $2.79. It was one of five choices, among them Tex-Mex corn, green chile chicken noodle, French onion and cream of mushroom.
Kiefer's carries north of 50 sandwiches on its daily menu, ranging from $4.29 to $8.99 for a six-meat Dagwood. Kiefer’s also does breakfast tacos and burgers, making it a one-stop breakfast-and-lunch spot — but mostly for the beehive of offices around Kramer and Metric — one that’s been around at least since a freelance critic really liked a sandwich there in 1997.
(TOP: Kiefer’s Baller, a meatball sandwich with peppers and onions. INSET: Clockwise from top left: The Damn Yankee sandwich with pastrami, corned beef and salami; Kiefer’s is wedged into the corner of an office park at Metric and Kramer; a chicken salad sandwich and Southwestern chowder; the ordering counter was clean, fast and polite. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)