The kids in Stranger Things wouldn’t feel out of place if they traveled forward in time to eat at Delirama. Advancing beyond retro chic into a warm embrace of kitsch, the interior doesn’t look like it has been touched since 1979. For a brand new restaurant, this seems like an extraordinary approach. On one hand, Delirama looks like it has been in business for decades, which provides a sense of easy informality and homey déjà vu. You think to yourself, “Have I already eaten here, or just other places exactly like this?”
The walls are carnation pink. Someone has affixed a 1980s print ad for Oscar Meyer Select Slices over a napkin dispenser. A doll-sized pickle grins while astride a piñata-sized pickle hanging above the counter. A green shag carpet “painting” of trees is framed in the center of the dining room. The rest of the groovy artwork matches up with Delirama’s “Psychedelic Pizza” cartoon logo. A many-petalled, multicolored flower opens up its mouth and stretches out its tongue towards a slice of happy pizza, googly-eyed, grinning and unaware of its imminent death-by-floral matter.
While you wait in line to order, and you will wait in a very long line to order, the menu is posted on one of those plastic black boards with changeable white letters and numbers. There are three sandwiches listed on it with three variations. An employee, who must have been a friend or relation of the owner, greeted customers in line, tallied the sandwich count from each group and filled in details about the menu. She also explained the difference between the OG, Pyro’s Reuben and Dad’s Mustard.
Delirama might have also called themselves Pastramirama. The OG ($17.95) contains pastrami, gruyere, coleslaw, thousand island dressing and mustard. On Pyro’s Reuben ($16.95), coleslaw is replaced with sauerkraut and the mustard is nixed. Dad’s Mustard ($15.95) is the most basic, just pastrami and mustard. They also have a vegan pastrami option. All of the sandwiches come with homemade potato chips, which are crunchy and delicious, spiced to evoke barbecue chips, but better than anything you’ve had in a pre-packaged wrapper.
The guardian at the front door told us about the chef’s homemade potato salad in the soft drink refrigerator and two additional specials, a beef brisket and a chicken schnitzel sandwich. She also promoted the fact that everything was made in house, from the bread to the chips to the hand-stretched pizza. When you arrive, at long last, to order, you get a glimpse of fresh potato chips emerging from the fryer, cheesy gooey pizzas and batches of freshly made bagels.
We ordered one bagel toasted with cream cheese and one as is to snack on. Instantly craveable, they were covered in all sorts of seeds, crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. If we’d arrived early for breakfast, I would have tried a breakfast sandwich ($7.49). Since we got to Solano Avenue around noon, we ordered the OG and the chicken schnitzel.
I can imagine a lumberjack ordering the Husky option ($24.95) and, after a busy day of chopping wood, feeling intensely satisfied with many additional slices of pastrami. But the Classic was plenty meaty. I only managed to eat half of it. This was due, in part, to the house rye. Delirama cuts it in thick slices so that it will hold the hefty fillings. The chicken schnitzel wasn’t significantly different from the OG sandwich. All of the ingredients were the same except for the protein.
And this is where the name, Delirama, announces its difference from a delicatessen like Saul’s up the road in Berkeley. Delirama is deli-adjacent rather than a full-fledged deli. Their main focus is pastrami, a delicious cut that’s enjoyable on occasion but, for folks like me, not an everyday item. What works at Saul’s is the variety. Pastrami and corned beef are featured on their menu, but more than supplemented by turkey, salami, tuna, patty melts and burgers. Delirama’s bagels are exceptional, but if you want to brave the lunch lines and subsequent wait times for your order, you really have to be a pastrami-ophile.
Delirama, open Mon, Thurs and Fri 7am–3pm and weekends 9am–5pm. 1746 Solano Ave., Berkeley. 510.647.9267. delirama.com