The Cutting Board: Prime Deli vs. Prospect Cafe

October 31, 2014

Every once in a while, your stomach may be growling for the type of food that Sodexo just can’t provide. Last week, I decided to venture into Waltham and determine once and for all which place was truly better—Prime Deli or Prospect Cafe. I did not order take out from these restaurants so I can’t attest to how quickly they deliver. It’s probably safe to bet that Prime Deli would be a little quicker, as it is much closer to campus. I ordered from the specialty sandwich menu at both restaurants, also purchasing a drink and a side.

The Prime Deli is located on 580 South Street in the same strip mall as the Village Market. It is about a five minute walk from the center of campus, so in other words, it’s close. I went there a little past noon on a Thursday and the place was packed with locals and a few fellow Brandeis students. I was a little overwhelmed at first by the number of choices I had before me. The menu had over 29 specialty sandwich options on top of an already exhausting list of classic subs and rollups. My hunger was getting the best of me, and I could not tackle the insurmountable task of deciding on what to eat alone. I decided to ask the cashier what she recommended. As we went back and forth discussing the different options, I could feel the anger of the other people in line growing. They must have all been “regulars,” because there is no way a Prime Deli virgin would have been able to make up their mind so quickly. I finally decided on the Scharff Attack Sandwich. It was a hot corned beef and pastrami sandwich that had swiss cheese, Russian dressing and coleslaw between two toasted pieces of dark rye. It also came with side, and I added on a drink to my order. The total was a little more than $13.

As I waited, I took in the atmosphere of the Prime Deli. The Brandeis shirts on the wall were a nice touch. It gave off the vibe of trying to connect the Waltham community to our university over the shared experience of food. A very bold goal for a little local restaurant, but a nice touch nonetheless. The wait was the worst part of my experience at the Prime Deli. It took over 15 minutes for them make my lunch.

Because of that wait, I was a little angry going into the oh-so-vital first bite. The meat was piled moderately high and it felt right in my hands. The sandwich was properly crafted, meaning I would not have to use a whole tree’s worth of napkins cleaning up sauce leakage. The meat and cheese were savory, the Russian dressing provided a necessary tang, and the slaw added some sweetness to the mix. The bread was well toasted, although it wasn’t particularly special. This sandwich was more concerned about what was on the inside than its exterior shell. My side of curly fries were good, but they were probably just prepackaged and cooked in the deep fryer. The sandwich overall was very good, and the insides more than made up for the basic bread.

The Prospect Cafe is located on 137 Prospect Street and is about a half mile walk from campus. It has three or four parking spaces out front, which always seem to be taken. The vibe of this place was immediately different from Prime. I was the only one in the restaurant. I went around noon again, but this time on a Tuesday. I was confused as to whether I was in the right place, because they didn’t have a big blackboard menu, which I searched for until the cashier handed me a takeout menu to look through. I asked for the cashier’s recommendation here as well, and he happily replied by saying the number eight, a grilled chicken BLT sandwich with avocado and ranch, was the most popular. I ordered that as well as a side of curly fries that were not included and a drink. My total came to just over $15.

I sat and waited in this empty restaurant and wondered how they were surviving. Maybe they make most of their business through delivery. My food came out very quickly, in under 10 minutes. This time around the best part of the meal was the bread. It was fresh-baked Scali bread, lightly toasted and very generous in size. The avocado was ripe and and all of the other fillings were good, but the ranch sauce was just too much. The sourness of the dressing overpowered the rest of the sandwich, leaving that flavor as the only thing I could taste. The curly fries were probably ordered from the same wholesale company that Prime orders from, because they tasted the same.

My experience at Prospect Cafe was definitely worse than at the Prime Deli. The food at both places were good, but the little things added up in the favor of the Prime Deli. The food quality, the turnaround time between placing an order and receiving the food, as well as the accessibility of the restaurant were all factors in my decision. I have decided that the Prime Deli deserves our hard-earned cash.

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