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Published June 11, 2013, 12:00 AM

Review: Smiling Moose decent, but no deli

FARGO - As more restaurants claim it on their marquees, the word “deli” doesn’t guarantee what it once did.

By: Eric Daeber, Special to The Forum, INFORUM

FARGO - As more restaurants claim it on their marquees, the word “deli” doesn’t guarantee what it once did.

But, before it slips off the meat counter of culinary vocabulary, let it be said: Smiling Moose Deli is a pretty decent sandwich shop. But deli it is not.

Some of what’s lost is seen in the menu.

Many of the classic deli ingredients are there, but what happened to the deli capicola, the lean neck and shoulder pork set in marbled fat? What happened to the hot salty deli pastrami in black peppercorns stacked up loose and high on caraway rye? Where’s the corned beef, for goodness sake?

As a deli, Smiling Moose Deli just doesn’t quite pull it off. When you have locations from Arlington, Texas, to Bozeman, Mont., all posting the same menu, you’re going to compromise. It’s the nature of a franchise.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t find something you like. The menu is huge. But most of the sandwiches are different arrangements of the same half-dozen meats and cheeses, most used rather sparingly and none in a terribly unique way.

Something slightly out of the ordinary is treated like it’s exotic. For example, you’ll have to pay an extra 75 cents for a single sliver of brie on each half of your sandwich.

There are the standard vegetable toppings and quite a few different kinds of dressings, all pretty predictable. This isn’t bad – just not particularly interesting.

A good example is the hot Bayou chicken sandwich ($6.69 and $8.79), mild even by standards on the Northern Plains. Another is the passable orange and rosemary dressing that is so placid that even a sensitive tongue might have to check the menu to find out what’s in it.

There are some variations on Midwestern comfort foods like the Mighty Mo ($6.69 and $8.79), which is basically a cheeseburger on a baguette made with broken ground beef and all the toppings you’d expect on a good burger.

There are a host of California veggies and Southwest sauces that change any combination of ingredients into any one of several cultural culinary expressions.

Ingredients are all very fresh, and this elevates Smiling Moose above many of the fast-food style offerings in the area. Veggies are crisp, the bread has flavor and trouble toppings like lettuce and spinach are bright and clean.

And there are some nice surprises. The candied pecans and the dried cranberries add a nice touch. The tomato basil soup ($3.69 for a cup), not as vivid as it could be, is still a pleasant addition to a build-your-own sandwich.

There is nothing to say when it comes to atmosphere. It’s a themed franchise with moose scattered around, all smiling broadly. And if you don’t like the music, you’ll find it oppressively loud

But Smiling Moose Deli fills the void between the $12 business lunch and the Subway sandwich with healthy, fresh and customizable sandwiches and salads. It’s not a deli, but there aren’t many bistros that are bistros anymore either.

I’ll go back because I think an onion should make a crunching noise when you bit into it and, at Smiling Moose, it does.

Smiling Moose Deli

ADDRESS: 102 Broadway, Fargo

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

PHONE: (701) 478-1100



DRESS: As you like

CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

CUISINE: American

FOOD: 2 out of 4 stars

SERVICE: 2 out of 4 stars

AMBIANCE: 1½ out of 4 stars

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.