There is no Melvin. The name is like the famous blended words referenced by Humpty Dumpty when talking to Alice: "You see, it's like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed into one word." The name originated when chums of Melinda and Kevin Ennis decided that they should henceforth be known collectively as Melvin – think spork, Desilu, or brunch. It works; together they morph into the singular Melvin, a slightly off-kilter couple that excels at making some of Austin's best sandwiches.
Melinda is an insurance adjuster who accumulated enough money to start the business that they had talked about opening for years. Kevin earned his chops as a longtime manager/chef at a seafood restaurant in Alaska, where self-sufficiency is paramount; he had entertained friends and family with his culinary skills for years. A history major, Kevin was devoted to producing authentic sandwich meats, carefully researching, experimenting, and testing each product. "Sandwiches was the one genre that we couldn't eat out at a restaurant. Hardly anyone here makes their own meats; they buy them from a supplier," says Melinda. "We wanted to change that."
Their pride and joy, Melvin's Deli Comfort, is situated in a gleaming red trailer on the southeast corner of 53rd and Duval. A couple of picnic tables sit under a huge pecan tree, and groovy tunes play on the sound system. Open for a little over a month, business is slowly building, and all reports have been glowing.
While I sat and waited for Chronicle photographer John Anderson to show up, I was tortured by the smell of housemade applewood-smoked bacon wafting from inside (think Homer drool). We ordered strategically so that we could try all of the meats, which Kevin and sidekick cook Eddie produce in-house; they make all of their products except the sauerkraut and the bread.
Our first sandwich was a Hot Italian Beef ($8): a big stack of thin slices of tender roast beef (Choice, Black Angus) warmed in jus, with sautéed green peppers, gooey provolone, and spicy pepper giardiniera, on a crunchy sub roll; riding shotgun is a tub of rich, garlicky jus for dipping. Every aspect of the sub was spot-on; this could compete with the elite in Chicago. Next came the pastrami Reuben ($9), a massive mound of flavorful pastrami on grilled rye, with Russian dressing, kraut, and melty Swiss. Sorry, Spec's Deli; your wonderful Reuben just got blown completely out of the water by Melvin.
The Daily Special, a Turkey BLT ($8), arrived next. Excellent white bread encased a mountain of sliced turkey, with ripe heirloom tomato, Swiss, lettuce, aioli, and amazingly good smoked bacon. "We rub, age, and then smoke the bellies over applewood," says Kevin. "It's great bacon." Last was the Croque Monsieur ($9), the world's best grilled cheese, filled with sweet, homemade ham, gruyère, and house mustard, all covered with a molten blanket of gruyère and béchamel sauce. It's messy, but delicious. Mel also brought me a taste of their wonderful corned beef, which melts in your mouth. The only thing they didn't have that day was the pork belly confit. "I take trimmed bellies and poach them in pig fat for 10 hours," says Kevin. "Then we slice and grill it and pair it with mustard greens and brie." It's Homer time again; I will return for that luscious sparkling jewel.
All of their sandwiches come with excellent, crispy, garlicky home-cured pickles and crispy housemade potato chips, made from new potatoes. "We have the pickles and chips dialed in now," says Melinda. "People love them." I know we loved them, and everything else we ate at Melvin's. Ingredients are of the highest quality, quantities are large, service is friendly, prices are very reasonable, and the flavors are outstanding. This is how a sandwich should be made.
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