For all of Lawrence’s many culinary offerings, downtown somehow has lacked a good delicatessen for several years. There are plenty of sandwich shops, but not the sort of place you could depend on to get a good hot pastrami or Reuben sandwich.
Local restaurant veterans Chetan Michie, Jen Young and Mike Young filled this gap last September when they opened Latchkey Deli on Massachusetts Street. Building on a solid foundation of classic deli offerings, Latchkey adds culinary flourishes, house curing or fermenting of quality ingredients, and a mastery of food craft to provide reliably tasty fare.
Latchkey’s attention to detail and deli heritage is particularly evident in the house pastrami, which is subtly smoky, richly beefy, and has the umami foundation that comes from properly aging meat. All of Latchkey’s meats are locally and ethically sourced, where possible, and they’re moist, sliced thinly enough to melt when chewed, and generously piled.
Vegetable toppings and garnishes are very fresh, highlighting the rest of the sandwich without making a soggy mess. House-made pickles and sauerkraut are carefully fermented, with a sour crispness that clearly sets them apart from commercial versions. Breads are solid enough to hold the substantial offerings together for eating by hand, a proper bracket that does not overshadow its contents. The ingredients not made in-house come from top brands such as St. Louis’ Volpi salami or Duke’s Real Mayonnaise.
Have you ever had a freshly fried potato chip? Latchkey’s version is a very different experience from the bagged variety. Tossed in seasoning (salted, salt and vinegar, BBQ, garlic parmesan or ranch), they’re addictively crunchy and savory. There will be none left when you finish your sandwich. Pasta, potato and green salads also are offered, as well as tomato soup and mac and cheese.
The beverage selection complements the menu well, with canned beers, wines and a modest liquor and cocktail menu. House-made Italian sodas are featured, with flavored syrups ranging from basic to inventively local. The Green River syrup, for instance, is a nod to electric green kids’ drinks, and pairs well in cocktails.
Latchkey’s service is a good balance of efficient and friendly. Questions are answered knowledgeably and patiently. Dietary restrictions are treated seriously, and there are many options for most diets. The gluten-free breads in particular are a revelation for people who have gotten used to frozen options (or none at all).
The deli’s dining area is cozy and well decorated, featuring local art and a range of collectibles and folk art. Tables are spaced well for social distancing, and the furniture is attractive and comfortable. The exposed brick and ducts make the dining area noisy, however, and conversations can be somewhat strained. As an alternative, outside dining is available, either for people-watching along Massachusetts Street or on a covered deck area in back.
Latchkey’s prices are on the high side for a deli, but the quality makes the food and drink a good value. At the lower end of the price range, egg salad sandwiches are $7, and the flagship meat-filled sandwiches are as much as $13. This is what food should cost in a restaurant that uses the best ingredients, prepares them slowly and carefully, and pays its employees properly. There are lower-priced options for kids.
Latchkey’s proprietors have real love and dedication to craft in their food, and you can feel it. In bringing the deli tradition back to downtown Lawrence, Latchkey provides a strong local alternative to chain restaurants, with food at an entirely higher level of quality.
Overall: 9/10. The high prices and noisy dining room are more than offset by delicious food and the comfortable atmosphere.
— Elwood Schaad (he/him) is a longtime Lawrencian who has worked in nearly every role at many local restaurants over the years, and who has a deep love of Lawrence’s local food culture.