I've driven by Cecil's several times a week for years, never realizing that beyond the deli counter was a restaurant with ample seating, an extensive menu and a healthy tolerance for young diners.
Excited by the discovery — even if it is a decade or two late — and craving my grandmother's knishes, we went to Cecil's for dinner and invited some friends to join us. They live just a short walk away yet rarely dine at the Jewish deli. Their perception: too expensive for food that is just so-so.
It's not easy to compete with Grandma.
But if you can accept that no restaurant version of the classics is ever going to quite measure up to the way your own grandma made it, Cecil's delivers a solid deli experience in casual, family-friendly surroundings.
When our noisy party of eight arrived, the multitasking host/ waiter/manager swiftly pulled together three tables. Out came a high chair for the baby and crayons for the three older kids.
The children's menu was meat-heavy (it is a deli, after all) featuring a hot dog, bagel dog, turkey and corned beef sandwiches, all priced around $5 with a choice of side. Drinks are separate — 79 cents apiece.
The 4-year-olds ate grilled cheese sandwiches. The 6-year-old was slightly more adventurous, opting for a burger. When asked to rate it, she wasn't impressed. "It's hard to eat a burger on a bagel," she said.
We adults liked the matzo ball soup and blintzes but thought the potato knishes were too doughy. The grilled tuna sandwich was decent, but our friend thought his corned beef was too chewy. Let the record show he ordered corned beef with chopped liver, which was not on the menu, but they made it for him without hesitation.
Meanwhile, for the first time I can recall, my sandwich of choice — a vegetarian Reuben — was on the menu. My whole life, I've put up with odd stares when I request a Reuben, hold the meat. But Cecil's has an entire menu of Reubens, including a veggie with grilled onions, green peppers, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. I'm already craving another. As for sides, the potato salad was very good, but the pickles were soggy.
The menu of nonalcoholic beverages is lengthy, and I spent considerable time deciding what to order. There were all the classics: chocolate phosphates, egg cream, Dr. Brown's. Finally, I settled on a cherry-flavored lemonade, which was lip-smackingly satisfying.
By the time we were ready for dessert, the kids (mine, anyway) had reached their breaking point and were running back and forth near the table. Though the staff was understanding and a couple of seniors called them "dear," we decided it would be best to order from the deli
Kids' Cuisine is a one-time take on how restaurants handle kid customers. It's written by a rotation of Pioneer Press staffers with children — the real experts for this column.
CECIL'S RESTAURANT AND DELICATESSEN
Address: 651 S. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
Prices: $7 to $13 for most sandwiches and entrees