At Mercer & Sons, the best ingredients push simple toward special

reviewed by Sarah Baker Hansen
I’ll be honest here: I knew before I ever set foot inside Mercer & Sons Delicatessen, the new deli, takeout spot and high-end grocery store from the owners of La Buvette, in the Old Market, that I was going to like it.

I did not realize just how much I was actually going to love the absolutely charming interior. Shelves packed with things like imported mustard, fancy crackers, and spices. A rotating case filled with slices of carrot cake and fresh berry tarts, and another case full of the kind of cheese, salads and dips that made me want to host a party, immediately.

It also doesn’t hurt that the selection of sandwiches and soups I tried were so affordably priced and also so appetizing that I can’t wait to visit again.

The owners have been working on opening the deli for some time now, and after a full renovation, the new space compliments La Buvette in its look and feel — brick walls, creaky floors, lots of art. It also marks a return to the grocery store-style roots of La Buvette. The back of the restaurant used to house many more shelves full of specialty groceries that, over the years, have been replaced with more tables for customer seating. Mercer & Sons brings those shelves back, and gives them new life.

Inside, the deli is similar in size to La Buvette, but it is solely takeaway. Note that if you plan on eating lunch from the counter, you’ll need to find a spot to sit. I might recommend walking over to the new Leahy mall, where there’s plenty of tables and chairs and lots of people watching.

A handwritten menu at the front lets visitors know that day’s sandwich and soup selections. There’s fresh bread, cheese, salads, smoked salmon, meats and dips that could also make a lunch, or a lovely evening charcuterie board, were one so inclined.

I ordered two sandwiches and two soups one recent day, and strolled around the space while the staff made my food to go. Things escalated quickly.

I grabbed a jar of tarragon mustard, a bag of toasted rounds of baguette, a container of hummus and another of cornichon pickles, a container of seasoned marcona almonds, a deli container of cheddar cheese curds and two pastries from the overflowing pastry and cookie basket on the counter.

I carted it all home before unloading the sandwiches and soups and sitting down to try everything. The day I ordered, the kitchen had two soups: Italian sausage and pepper and tomato. I did not expect the latter to be filled with softened green olives, chunks of tomato and onion and a surprisingly deep and briny flavor.

The sausage and pepper soup was just as good, and though both were tomato-based, their flavor profiles were different. The sausage and pepper was hotter, with different notes of black pepper and fennel.

The homemade soups are $4.95 each, which puts them two dollars below a cup of soup at Panera. It’s an impressively low price for such high-quality ingredients and tasty finishes.

The sandwiches come served on the house-made breads that La Buvette has long served, but in different varieties: a thick slice of country pate slathered in Dijon mustard comes on crisp-tender homemade focaccia bread. The soft bread paired with the firmer pate is a delightful bite. It feels very French in its simplicity and depth.

The kitchen was debuting its house-made pastrami on rye the day I visited, and it’s a sandwich worth trying. The rye, soft and still slightly warm from the oven, had a crusty exterior and a soft, interior studded with caraway. A curling stack of pastrami, the brisket perfectly rosy pink with a tender finish, gets finished with a tangy whole grain mustard that cuts the richness. I audibly sighed at the first bite; like most of what I tried, it’s simple, but made with the best ingredients available, which pushes it toward exceptional.

I can’t recommend enough selecting a pastry from the big basket by the register: I tried a soft, gooey chocolate chip cookie and a bar that I’ve been cutting slices off of for the past few days. Labeled “diamond crumble,” it’s a shortbread base covered with a layer of dark chocolate and topped with more chocolate, crumbles of shortbread and a few nuts.

The food next door at La Buvette is, in my opinion, better than ever. With the addition of Mercer, a lunchtime neighbor and a return to its grocery store roots, the experience of the two restaurants together is as surprising and delicious as ever.

Mercer & Sons Delicatessen
509 S. 11th St.


Mon-Sat: 10am – 6pm
Sunday: CLOSED

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