Pastrami on Why?

When Deco Sandwiches, originally advertised as a 24-hour gourmet deli, opened just more than a year ago, the first thought that came to mind was the management must have a death wish. What other explanation could there be for opening another sandwich joint barely a block from La Sandwicherie? The latter's French-style offerings (featuring high-quality pâtés, salamis, cheeses, and veggies dressed with an impeccable housemade vinaigrette and served on crisp baguettes) are arguably the Beach's best.

Furthermore, though Sandwicherie's outdoor counter, open till 5:00 a.m., is hardly glam, it's a festive vantage point for viewing SoBe's late-night wildlife as it staggers past. Plain would be the most generous description of Deco Sandwiches' small indoor space. Sure, the corner spot boasts large picture windows, but the picture is basically an Edward Hopper painting: Depression-era luncheonette.

Still, the neighborhood has a five-hour sandwich gap between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., when Sandwicherie is closed; there's always room in a 24/7 town for good 24/7 eateries. And a more recent advertisement, noting the addition of Middle Eastern fare to the menu, made Deco seem unique enough for a try. But on an attempted first visit at 3:00 a.m., it was closed. Hours here, as counter personnel later clarified, are more like seasonally changing estimates than guarantees.


Deco Sandwiches

1361 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-532-1812

Open daily 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

That goes for the rest of the menu too. In terms of flavor, the Middle Eastern stuff is the way to go here, but don't expect items from the menu or on wall signs to be available. That's because Middle Eastern meats are not prepped in-house but come premarinated from a supplier in the American Midwest, as my dining companion and I learned after we struck out twice when attempting to order meat shawarma and maqaneq (an exotically spiced, peppery Lebanese sausage, not to mention a fab Scrabble word). By the time the sausage reached Miami, "It was always bad. So we don't have it anymore," the fellow explained.

The meat shawarma is sometimes available, evidently, but not on any of my three visits. On one occasion, chicken shawarma was a satisfying substitute, the marinated slices succulently spicy and moist. On another occasion, though, with a different cook behind the counter, the poultry was discouragingly dry — which is not to be unexpected when chicken pieces are individually pan-sautéed, as Deco does. (Customarily shawarma is fire-roasted on a vertical cone, like gyros, a method that self-bastes the meat, keeping it virtually unfailingly juicy.)

A Deco house burger, ordered with cheddar, came woefully overcooked, and came back worse after it was returned for the cheese the cook forgot. A pricey ($9.99) Philly cheese steak sandwich packed with fairly tender beef, plus onions and red and green peppers, was much better, despite mediocre bread and the absence of promised mushrooms. But the curly fries that were supposed to accompany all sandwiches were unavailable, and the regular fries substituted were a total waste of calories — not fresh, not fun.

A huge avocado salad would have been good had it arrived with a tasty housemade dressing. Sadly only prefab bottled dressings were on hand, though a server offered to mix the industrial-tasting Italian with ranch. It was no improvement.

A pastrami sandwich featured supermodel-lean meat that might satisfy someone on a low-fat diet but would not please any serious Jewish deli aficionado. News flash: Pastrami is not a health food. When it comes to this cold cut, fat is flavor.

The same can be said of Deco's thin, tart strawberry milkshake, which was just that — fruit and milk. "Do you think we could pay them extra to add some ice cream? Probably not," sighed my companion. She was sharing my shake because the fresh orange juice she'd ordered was — surprise! — unavailable. The real surprise would be if this mediocre place lasted another season.


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