Minneapolis sandwich shop Marty’s Deli has operated as a roving pop-up and delivery service for the past two years, leaning on a loyal, focaccia-loving fanbase and a trusty ’73 VW bus. But this Saturday, January 7, the deli is debuting its new home — and revamped menu — at 400 Lowry Avenue NE.
Marty’s sandwiches are roughly Italian-style, packed with briny meats, mustards, and creamy aiolis. But they rest squarely on the airy, golden foundation of owner Martha Polacek’s house-baked focaccia. The bread lends an unexpected sweetness, accenting the brine and making the mustard taste even brighter. Customers who have tried a few of Marty’s sandwiches quickly learn to eat them upside down, so the rosemary and coarse flakes of sea salt hit the tongue.
It’s sophisticated stuff, but it all started somewhere quite humble: Milio’s, the Midwestern sandwich phenom. “I just love a sandwich,” says Polacek. “I grew up rushing from my high school to Milio’s. It definitely started there, with the most basic turkey and cheese clubs.” After college, Polacek worked at a bagel shop in Vermont. From there, she moved to New York City and took a job in a commissary kitchen making organic school lunches. “That’s where I learned to do the massive amounts I’m doing now — in a restaurant, you’re not making 20 quarts of mayo at a time,” says Polacek. Then she spent a stint at Cervo’s, a Spanish and Portuguese-influenced restaurant on the Lower East Side. “That’s where I fine-tuned things. Cervo’s is very casual, but I learned how to make good food that’s simple, but feels elevated.”
Polacek is keeping many of Marty’s staples on the menu: her chicken salad sandwich; the Uncle Pete, a BLT with Peterson Craftsman bacon, pickled tomato, and basil; and the Raffi Luigi, which is stuffed with salami, prosciutto, and fennel slaw. Her roasted cauliflower vegan sandwich is sticking around, too. But she’s added a customizable breakfast sandwich, hash browns, a kid’s salami sandwich, and a chicken cutlet and broccoli sandwich.
Polacek gets recipe inspiration from her favorite spots in New York. “It’s the really simple, classic Italian delis in North Brooklyn,” says Polacek. “The ones where you get a chicken cutlet sandwich and the chicken cutlet is soggy, but intentionally soggy. There’s one in particular I used to live by called Anthony & Son. I dream about those sandwiches all the time.”
Some of the deli’s design elements, too, take cues from her favorite shops in other cities. The vibrant color blocking at Big Night, a Brooklyn pantry and party shop, inspired the rich blue stripe around the counter, and Wine and Eggs in LA gave her the idea for the open coolers. (Polacek says her biggest design influence is actually her sister, Catherine, who designs all her menus, signage, and merch.) The building is a former tattoo parlor — she and her partner built it out from the ground up, adding everything from the hood to the classic blue-and-white tiling.
Marty’s joins Minneapolis’s roster of classic delis and sandwich shops, from Lu’s Sandwiches to Cecil’s. There have been some exciting additions to the scene in the past year alone: an expanded menu from Clancey’s and hefty heroes on house-baked sesame loaves from Mario’s. But Polacek’s focaccia devotion is unique. She’s also hearing from Northeast neighbors who are especially excited about the prospect of her breakfast sandwiches.
Marty’s grand opening is this Saturday, January 7, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The big question, of course, is what will become of Polacek’s infamous van — the ’73 VW bus her father, Dave, has hauled around the Twin Cities for two years as the deli’s de facto delivery man. (Polacek, hoping to assuage her guilt over the years of unpaid labor, leveraged her Instagram following to fix him up.) She says Dave is determined to drive the van to the new shop and park it there for the grand opening. “It doesn’t have heat — he’s gonna have to drag it here in the freezing cold,” says Polacek. “We’ll see. It’ll probably get stuck in the snow. Then it’ll really be here forever.”
Regular hours at Marty’s Deli will be Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.