I think it wins the prize for the longest time coming. I believe the first time I reported that Lucky Dill was bringing its New York-style deli to Boy Scout Boulevard was near the end of 2015. Taking over the huge and defunct Boizao Steakhouse space, it finally opened to the public three years later, holding its grand opening Jan. 18. Whew.
The original Lucky Dill Deli, owned by Jason Mitow, opened in Palm Harbor more than a quarter century ago. There have been other locations (the downtown St. Petersburg location has different owners), but this project, also the work of Mitow with Joey Rosati and investors David Spezza, the Eschenroeder family and Ralph Zuckerman, was the most ambitious yet. They had contractor problems, it took a purported $8 million to get it all right, it went way over budget and there were lawsuits.
Part of the issue has been the scope of the project. In the 18,000-square-foot space there’s the deli, a bakery-catering outfit and a bar-nightclub called the New York Kitchen and Lounge (NYKL), with an enormously long bar and a stage for live music. There’s also a weekend speakeasy in the works called the Stash House, which thus far serves as overflow at the back of NYKL, mostly for hospitality industry folks. There’s a huge outdoor patio and the parking lot is vast, an indication of the kind of volume they intend to do.
Thus far, based on a couple of visits, Lucky Dill is a runaway success but NYKL hasn’t quite found its audience. NYKL, which has a menu of really ho-hum small plates and a cavernous uninviting interior, is going to have to really consider its mission. Even with some solid happy hour specials (4 to 7 p.m., $3 beers, $4 wines, $5 cocktails), it was mostly the sound of crickets in there one night.
You’re coming here for the deli. I’m going to say up front that it’s extremely loud and that there can be maddeningly long lags between courses. I don’t think it’s a server problem — the staff seems plucky and eager to please. I think it’s the kitchen that is getting its bearings with this kind of volume. A Big Ass Fan (that’s a brand, okay?) spins overhead, the brick walls are loaded with New York-obilia (signs to Yankee Stadium and such), and there’s a long glass bakery case that you’ll want to breath-fog like the window of an old-timey pet store, only instead of cute schnauzers it’s Florentines, apricot rugelach and pistachio leaf butter cookies.
You’ll sit down with the oversized, multipage menu and start reading. And keep reading. Eventually, a decision will be arrived at, perhaps a capitulation as your eyes fatigue. Let’s hope your eyes land on hot corned beef, or pastrami (both $13.50), really a mountain of thin-sliced meat piled onto marbled rye or pumpernickel that looks like it is nearly insufficient to the task, or one of the entries from the lineup of Reubens. I like these better because the bread is toasted and buttered, crispier and a nicer contrast to that heap of plush corned beef or pastrami, which is good but not made in-house.
Sandwiches come with a choice of potato salad, coleslaw, chips, pasta or kale salad (potato salad and coleslaw are both archetypal and solid), and you can upgrade on the bread or add fillips like a schmear of chopped liver. (Liver fans, there’s also a homey chopped liver sandwich like maybe your bubbe made.) Chicken salad comes four ways ($12 or $12.50), all of them lush with mayo — the dilled version especially good, but if you’re going “Waldorf,” get it on the croissant, so fancy — and there are appealing tuna and whitefish options.
If you grew up with this food, this is a welcome newcomer in South Tampa, an area that has had an unfortunate paucity of New York or Jewish deli. You can have your Dr. Brown’s cream soda ($2.75) or even a Fox’s U-Bet egg cream ($4; Fox’s is a nondescript chocolate syrup — if you grew up on it, you crave it), then maybe a matzo ball soup ($4.50 cup, $6 bowl) before your sandwich. But those matzo balls remind me of something: Lucky Dill uses hyperbole like nobody’s business. As Cassius Clay said, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true,” but the matzo balls are advertised as “incredibly light” (they’re rib-sticking) and the latkes are “ginormous” (they are a pair of modest-sized pancakes). In restaurants, perhaps more than anywhere else, you get good results if you under-promise and over-deliver.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. Shes dines anonymously and the Times pays all expenses.
The Lucky Dill
4606 W Boy Scout Blvd., Tampa; (813) 444-5188;luckydillwestshore.com.
Hours: The Lucky Dill is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. NYKL is open at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, until midnight Monday to Wednesday, 1 a.m. Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday. Open 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday.
Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; no reservations; full bar; takeout
Prices: Sandwiches $13.50-$17.50; other entrees $14.50-$17.50
Rating, out of four stars: