In May 2010, Stalzy’s Deli opened in the Atwood neighborhood. By October of that year, Madison Magazine named Neil and Corbin, the co-owners, as two of Madison’s best new chefs. Neil is the executive chef at Stalzy’s Deli. He and I share a passion for whole foods, historical research, and our inability to correctly pronounce the name of our favorite magazine.
Neil grew up in a small town in Minnesota. With two home gardens and a host of nearby family farms, Neil grew up canning, pickling, and butchering. The family would gather together to split up meat and preserves that would be frozen or shelved to be eaten throughout the winter.
When he was ten years old, the golf course across the street was hiring. He started doing odd jobs around the course. Three years later, they needed a line cook for the weekend and Neil began cooking. With all the common sense of a teenager, he cooked the food according to how he would want to eat it, the way he thought the dishes should be, and that methodology has remained with him to this day.
When Neil moved to Madison in 1998, he didn’t intend to settle here, but the friendliness of the people, the variety of the restaurants, and the general Madison way of life ensnared him. After working at Lombardino’s and Sardine’s, Neil reached a point where he was ready to move into ownership. His next-door neighbor, Corbin Reynolds had a similar vision. Talks that began in August materialized into the Deli opening on the following Mother’s Day.
It may have seemed like a quick transition, but you could also say that Neil was groomed to own a deli from his childhood in Minnesota. For him, it seemed natural to continue the traditions of his German family and to do so in a professional career.
Contrary to popular belief, Stalzy’s Deli is not a chain. Let me repeat: Stalzy’s Deli is not a chain.
When you first walk in and see how neat, how perfect each element fits into the mold of everything that you thought a neighborhood deli should be….
….from the baskets of homemade breads….
…..to the coolers of handpicked Eastern Europeans beers and wines
….the grab and go sandwiches and from-scratch deli salads and soups…
…even the chalkboard menus….
It seems too perfect, too picturesque to not be a franchise.
Neil told me during our interview that during the first two months of opening, people walked in and asked about other locations. “We just opened!” We would tell them and people didn’t believe it.
“I want to be insulted, but it’s also a compliment,” he confessed, “we must have done something right.”
On the subject of what Stalzy’s is not, it’s also NOT your typical Wisconsin deli. This is a deli deli. For us Midwesterners, that may sound odd, but check out this deli primer to understand where Stalzy’s fits into the scene.
In short, Stalzy’s is not a dump and scoop type of place. In the back pantry you will find all raw ingredients: beets, cabbage, flour, salt, and sugar. Similar to what Neil found in his pantry growing up. Everything at Stalzy’s Deli is hand-made. That sauerkraut came in as heads of cabbage. After Neil hand-shredded it, he brines and ages it for up to 60 days, just like his parents did when he was growing up.
This is a deli in the sense of its original definition, a delicatessen, a store selling handcrafted, high-quality foods. Like the famous New York delis, Stalzy’s Deli maintains the traditions of its founders and their regional cuisine.
All in the Family
In Stalzy’s Deli, you may notice this picture on the wall:
This is a picture of co-owner Corbin Reynolds’ grandparents and great-grandparents whom owned a diner in Waverly, Iowa. Between the hospitality tradition and Neil’s culinary family traditions, you can see how (like the traditional delis) these owners are keeping traditions alive with Stalzy’s Deli.
What Should You Order?
Where to start?
I recommend the Rye bread, health salad, and the macaroni salad. Manatee and I get in fights when I bring the the health salad home. I also have a special soft spot for their macaroni salad because they use carrots, not cheese. Brilliant!
They are also known for their pastrami, mushroom and barley soup, turkey lentil, and their corned beef sandwiches.
Many of the recipes come from Neil’s family and all of the dishes come from Neil’s extensive, historical research. He doesn’t cook anything without first having a thorough understanding of where it came from, what its significance was, and how it impacted the culture.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Neil is hoping to teach some cooking classes at Stalzy’s Deli in the upcoming months. He is passionate about the food and about teaching people about the food and its history. Watch their website for details. I have already reserved my spot….right Neil?
Stalzy’s Deli Need to Know:
Stalzy’s Deli only takes cash or check.
Monday through Saturday, Stalzy’s is open 7:30 am to 9:00 pm. On Sundays, they are open from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm.
Stalzy’s Deli is located at 2701 Atwood Avenue…
…at the corner of Atwood and Hudson.
- On Fridays, they sell Challah bread and feature their smoked turkey sandwich. They also have just started a Friday night fish fry which includes walleye, potato pancakes, coleslaw, homemade tartar sauce, and homemade bread.
- For those who work in the service industry, Staltzy’s also does a Service Industry Monday Fish Fry.
- You can try new menu items, beer, and wine on Thursdays from 6 to 9 pm.
- Wednesdays are Weck Wednesdays.
Wait, What’s a Weck?
That was exactly what I said.
Neil shared with me this trivia: You know BW3s. Buffalo Wild Wings and….wait do you know what the third W is?
Yup, you guessed it. Weck!
Beef on Weck is a New York tradition. Roast beef on a Kaiser style bun topped with sea salt and caraway seeds. The original was always dressed with a slab of fresh horseradish. Neil dresses it with a horseradish mayo and tops with flat top onions.
Stalzy’s Deli Local Partners
Garden to Bee: Stalzy’s uses their cabbage to make the sauerkraut.
Madison Sourdough– Stalzy’s uses their bread for sandwiches
New Century Farms– Stalzy’s uses their eggs.
Weary Traveler uses Stalzy’s smoked turkey and sauerkraut
Neil’s Advice to New Cooks
- Start at the most basic. People want to make foam when they should start with making an omelet. People want to start at point b instead of point a. You have to start at point a. Start at the most basic. Once you master that, it’s not just going to point b, you can get to point f, point m, or point z.
- Do your research. Cross-reference recipes and find the lowest common denominator. Then try to figure the differences. Why does one recipe do one thing and one another?
- Trust your personal taste. Once you understand the recipe’s building blocks, then you can make it for your own tastes.