Sandwich City: Melvin’s Deli Comfort

Melvin’s Deli Comfort
A trailer at 501 E. 53rd St. 512-705-3906,
Hours: 11am-2pm Tue-Sat.
UPDATE: Melvin's Deli Comfort trailer has closed
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.28.13
Kevin Ennis of Melvin’s Deli Comfort sandwich trailer isn’t fond of pastrami with an attitude. He benched it one morning, unhappy with the way it came out, the same way he gave the trailer’s pickles some time off to think about their behavior. Something else the former Alaskan isn’t crazy about? “He can’t handle cold weather,” according to Melinda Baggett-Ennis, his wife and co-owner. “He hates it.”
Melinda and Kevin — um, Melvin — bought the trailer online, reconditioned it themselves and opened the first week of December outside an empty office-supply building at 53rd and Duval, close to where they live. She’s an insurance adjuster. He’s been a seafood buyer and seller with some restaurant experience, but mostly he’s one of those home cooks good enough to go pro. Together, they brine brisket for seven days for corned beef, season and cook their own turkey and roast beef, cure their own pork belly for bacon, brine pork for ham and make their own mayo and mustard.
I’ve had a lot of Reuben sandwiches in Austin, including five in one day (at left) for a challenge won by the late Manny Hattan’s. The Reuben at Melvin’s ($9) is exponentially better than any of them, the king of corned beef until somebody else says different.
The meat’s as accordion-marbled as the best barbecued Texas brisket, trimmed in thick slices with enough fat on the edges to keep the beef from going all paper-towel dry. The sin of the common Reuben is that its creators make up for dry meat with overly wet sauerkraut and smothering blobs of Russian dressing. At Melvin’s, the meat does all the soft-talking, freeing up the kraut to work its twangy magic without going soggy, and the Russian hangs back in modest repose, rich and sweet, shrugging off the orange robes of a lesser dressing. Thin but determined rye from Panera keeps everything in place with a butter-toasted crackle.
The hot Italian beef  sandwich ($8) is like Animal from the Muppets: Shaggy, wild and ... orange. Its sheer weight speaks to its animal nature. A half-pound of roast beef sliced thinner than a profit margin, layer after layer with alternating frames of lean and fat, all of it tender brown and sunburned pink tucked in by a layer of provolone, served with a side of salted brown jus. The orange comes from a blend of pickled hot peppers called giardiniera: fat slices of sweet onion and rings of red and green peppers suspended in furious vermilion puree with conspiratorial seeds. The only thing keeping this beast in its pen is a thick, crusty roll from Fiesta, the kind that makes a big tear-apart Mexican torta — or a buon panino from that other country with the red, white and green flag.
Marbling gives the ham in a croque monsieur sandwich ($9) the qualities of a medieval map, with the lean fiefdoms drawn in tight concentration with tributaries, streams and rivers between them, bodies of fat that catch the light and feed the landscape with salt and silk. It’s the red of blushy cheeks, of ruddy trailer warriors in midwinter. Sweet, lightly smoked and moist as slow-roasted shoulder, the ham turns this sandwich into a king’s grilled cheese. Crusty white bread grilled brown at the edge supports melted gruyere inside and stands up to a soft, warm layer of bechamel and more gruyere on top, with high-spark mustard for contrast.
At Melvin’s, a turkey sandwich ($7) isn’t the shy, recessive bird we’ve come to know. This bird takes control with a half-pound of soft white meat layered like down feathers into a tower both impressively tall and deceptively fluffy. So heroic is the turkey that it pushes out and beyond the bounds of white bread too thin and saturated with mayo, mustard and boggy tomatoes to keep it together. A thicker slice of bread or a shift to sourdough might remedy that. In January, unfortunately, there’s not much remedy for mealy tomatoes, heirloom or not. They should have shared the bench with the pastrami that day.
Homemade bacon on a BLT ($8) is a pioneer move, the same kind of open-prairie spirit that drives someone to open a trailer in the first place. It’s curled, sweet and salty, three things you want in your bacon. It’s laid out in proportions appropriate to the same white bread that failed the turkey. But like that sandwich, it endured the same ignominy of mushy tomatoes. You could take tomatoes off the turkey sandwich without penalty, but what to do with a BLT without the T? Across town, the Noble Pig solves it with a roasted tomato, and I’ve had interesting twists on a BLT using sun-dried tomatoes, even tomato jam. Something to think about in the off season.
Has anybody ordered that $25 sandwich, the double-decker with six meats and three cheeses? “Only one guy, and he’s ordered it twice,” Baggett-Ennis said. “But he doesn’t eat it by himself. He splits it with his girlfriend.”
Sandwiches come with a handful of charming red-skinned potatoes fried into petite chips almost comical in their contrast to the larger-than-life sandwiches. Like Melanie and Kevin — Melvin — they make a nice couple.
(TOP: Clockwise from top left: A half-pound roasted turkey sandwich from Melvin’s Deli Comfort trailer at 53rd and Duval; croque monsieur, Italian beef and corned-beef Reuben sandwiches; a BLT with house-cured bacon. FIRST INSET: Reubens from Fricano's, Manny Hattan's, Little Deli, NeWorlDeli and Garden Spot. SECOND INSET: Separately, they’re Melinda Baggett-Ennis and Kevin Ennis. Together, they’re Melvin. Photos by Mike Sutter  Fed Man Walking)