Nov 20, 2018

The Wanigan: Whiskey and oatmeal at 7:30 a.m. (if you want it), named sandwiches and a river view till 10 p.m.

The Wanigan Deli
Wanigan: Now with a full bar
The hairy guy's report:

One of the perks of being human is that we get to name things -- pets, kids, sandwiches -- though not always appropriately. Consider the famous song "A Boy Named Sue."

A boy I know (not named Sue) got a kitten when he was 5 and named it Nibbles. Cute name for a cat. Now he's 7 and into video games; when a new cat recently showed up, he wanted to name it Iron Fist. (His dad luckily exercised a veto.)

Then there's the list of sandwiches with cute names at the Wanigan Eatery & Deli, which has been open for years on South Wenona near Salzburg but recently added a bar and expanded its hours. For instance, #17 is called Adam & Eve on a Raft. You expect maybe a slice of apple, some rib meat, a deviled egg, a snake -- something that hints at the biblical tale.

Nope. The #17 has turkey, three kinds of cheese, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, onion and Greek dressing on French bread. Sounds like a good sandwich, but what's the Adam and Eve connection?

And #4, called Laura's Leave It to Beefer, might be expected to have sliced roast beef. Nope again. It has pastrami, Jarlsberg cheese and Russian dressing on rye.

All is not lost. Scott's Hammin' It Up (#10) does have ham, Colleen's Corned Beef Delight (#24)
Melissa at the Wanigan
Melissa behind the bar
has corned beef, and Connie's Perky Turkey (#27) has turkey (though we hesitate to bite into anything described as perky).

Melissa, who works the early shift (the place opens at 7:30 a.m.) says the sandwiches were named after employees. She got #25, called Melissa's Meatless Masterpiece. Most of the sandwiches, by the way, go for $8.45.

The Wanigan is much more of a deli restaurant than a bar. But since it now has an actual bar, we claim it as a bar. Don't expect games or lottery tickets or any of that typical bar stuff, though.

The new bar itself is small (it seats just a handful) but an impressive construction -- made from a thick slab of a log, in keeping with the general decor of local lumber industry memorabilia. That includes the name; a wanigan, one dictionary says, was a lumberjack's trunk or a lumber camp's supply chest.

It all makes sense because the building was long part of the Kantzler lumber operations along the
Old days outside what's now the Wanigan
The old days outside what's now the Wanigan.
river. An old photo shows a line of cars driving past what was then just the front part of today's restaurant.

The Wanigan Delicatessen first appears in city directories in 1987. At present, it sits between a defunct pizza joint and an empty building for rent, but within a good stone's throw of Putz's Hardware (which itself dates easily to lumbering days).

The building has a great view of riverfront parkland and the water. A large screened room and outdoor patio out back are great spots to eat in warmer weather.

At the bar, eight beers are on tap, including the classic triumvirate of lights -- Bud Light, Busch Light and Miller Lite (each $2 a pint). The other five are craft brews. On a wintry day, we got a Sam Adams Winter Lager ($4.50 a pint). Some bottled beers are $2.50.

A sign offers Moscow mules at $7 and three fruity variations at $7.50. A printed menu lists wines by the glass.

Two TVs behind the bar had soaps and daytime talk shows in the afternoon, news and sports in
Beer taps at the Wanigan deli
Beer taps at the bar
the evening.

Melissa, who says she's worked at the Wanigan for 20 years, admits to being new at bartending and good-naturedly looks up mixed-drink recipes.

We asked for a Manhattan. There was a full bottle of sweet vermouth and a giant jar of maraschino cherries. We had to explain how to make the drink, but it turned out fine (though you'll always think it turns out fine if you tell the bartender exactly how you want it).

Melissa takes off in early afternoon. She said the real bartender comes in sometime from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., depending on the day. This was a Monday; by 4 p.m. no bartender had shown up, and we left.

A word of caution about ordering food: You might sit at a table and see a waitress bring food to others. So you figure she'll be around soon to take your order. You'd be wrong.

The process here (and there's a sign, but it's easy to miss) is that you go to the front counter to give your order and pay. Then you can grab a seat (or hang around in front for a carry-out) and
Inside the Wanigan Deli
Inside the Wanigan
someone brings it to you.

And you might figure you can order a drink while you're at the counter. Wrong again. For a beer or other alcohol, you pay separately at the bar (and bring it yourself to your table).

This is surely not the biggest hassle you'll face in life, but you might wonder why things are the way they are. Sorry, we don't know.

Actually, on a second and third visit, we sat at the bar and could order food (and get it brought to the bar). So sitting there is the way to go, though the bar only has a few seats. Also, the irregular slab bar is notably wider at the bottom
(and sharp in spots) than the top, so sitting too close can mean you'll get poked in the stomach.

But back to those sandwiches.

Melissa said #7, called California Dreamin', is the most popular. But on a first visit, we were in the mood for a
Sandwich on website...
basic pastrami on rye ($7.25). Wanigan's website even includes a photo of one (it might be corned beef; no way to tell for sure), showing meat piled high on bread, mustard oozing out slightly -- exactly what we had in mind.

Second time out, it was a corned beef on rye. Looked just like the pastrami. Each was about half the thickness of the one in the photo. It was good deli meat, but there was way too much bread vs. the meat. (Here's an unsolicited suggestion: The basic corned beef or pastrami on rye costs $7.25 vs. $8.45 for the specialty sandwiches. Either would be better at $8.45 with more meat.)

The menu also includes typical breakfasts (two eggs and toast are $3.75, plain oatmeal is
... and what we got
$2.25), served till 10:30 a.m. (though the menu doesn't mention that). If we ever get up in time and think of it, an item called New York Deli Eggs (sauteed onions, eggs, pastrami and toast, at $6.75) sounds worth a try.

Soups, salads and desserts also are available. The sandwiches, besides the named versions, include standard things like a BLT, hot dogs and subs.

The Wanigan is open 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

So I can get a drink at 7:30 a.m.? "If you want to," Melissa says.


  The particulars:
  Wanigan Eatery & Deli
  1905 S. Wenona


mgaken said...

thanks again! always look forward to these and most the time I check them out. Keep up the good work.

Dan Manning said...

Another good article.we just drove past it last week and wondered what it was like inside.