Rubber Ducks, Plastic Forks

I don't deny that the reason I decided to eat lunch at this particular sandwich spot was because of its quacky moniker. I thought: Surely any food shop called the Rubber Duck has to put out a pretty creative product, right? Well, as it turns out, not really, but this neighborhood deli in the Gables business district has other things going for it -- most notably fresh, tasty sandwiches; bright, hefty salads; and as friendly a counter crew as you're likely to find.

Part of the Duck troops' pleasant disposition might be traced to owners Libby Hernandez and Lucy DeArmas always being on site, either working the counter or cooking in the kitchen. They've been running this small, mostly take-out shop for the last four of its seven-year existence; previously there had been a novelty store at the same location. It was called The Rubber Duck.

The only remnants of novelty left are five shiny yellow rubber duckies on the sill by the storefront window. The rest of the limited space is taken up by a couple of small circular tables, a glass display case stocked with the usual array of contemporary soft drinks (Snapple, Orangina, Martinelli, Nantucket Nectars, and so on), a counter with a workspace behind it, and a kitchen out of view in back. It's an unpretentious little deli, not much to look at other than the menu -- which is lengthy enough that it takes some time to peruse. There are, to be more specific, 14 salads (all $6.35) with choice of 11 dressings; 10 types of pizzas ($5.95 to $7.95); and 28 sandwiches ($4.95 to $5.35) with choice of five breads, six cheeses, and four spreads. Also chicken soup, kosher hot dogs, cole slaw, potato salad, potato chips, smoothies, and a couple of desserts (key lime pie and cheesecake).


The Rubber Duck

166 Alhambra Cir, Coral Gables, FL

Open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Call 305-441-9442.

I'll help make the selection process easier: Skip the pizza. The toppings are zesty enough, but the dough, while thin and crispy, is as stiff and tasteless as matzo. Let your eyes glide right by the vegetarian wrap too, the tortilla painted with an "artichoke and cheese paste" that was rather unpleasant, and filled almost exclusively with salad mix.

I did try a whole lot of other sandwiches. Homemade chicken salad is chunky and flecked with bits of red onion and celery, the roast honey turkey quite moist, and "The Almost Cuban" on grilled baguette delicious, but even better on pressed panini as an "Almost Midnight Sandwich." The Rubber Duck Club Deluxe, on soft, fresh baguette, comes piled with turkey breast, bacon, Swiss cheese, romaine, tomatoes, and, like all sandwiches, a choice of aioli mayo, Dijon mustard, honey mustard, or apricot mustard (this last spread matches particularly well with the roast pork sandwich). Other fillings include roast beef, pastrami, meatballs, tuna, and a host of chicken treatments (surprisingly, no duck), which is more than enough selection to entice even the pickiest of patrons. And vegetarians needn't fret over the poor state of the veggie wrap -- the hummus wrap is better, as is the vegetable sub.

Salads are bountiful, though they cover less new ground than a rubber duck in a bathtub: Greek, caesar, caprese, niçoise, spinach, and, again, plenty of chicken variations. There was no blue cheese in my cobb, which I unfortunately discovered upon arriving home, but salad lettuces were consistently crisp and the garnishings fresh.

So the Rubber Duck keeps floating along, offering appreciative Gables workers reliably satisfying sandwiches and salads -- and at reasonable prices, which means it still is, after all, a bit novel.


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