This lively neighborhood spot is one of the last places in the South End where you can sip a beer, eat a perfectly crisp and delicious bean and cheese quesadilla ($5.50), and leave having spent a mere Ten Spot. But the place is quirky, and some dishes -- like a rack of lamb with dark berry glaze, and a chicken breast cooked "buffalo" style -- make me think Moosewood grown up. The Cartoon Network is playing on the television, even on the nights when the Sox are in town, and one waitress takes care of the whole room and gets to your table in what the English call "the goodness of time."
Still, if I lived around the corner, this dimly lit, pine-paneled place would become my second home. It seems to be just that for many neighbors. When the city banned smoking, Delux put up the requisite No Smoking sign with this printed under it: "In accordance with the fascist regime at City Hall." Needless to say, the folks at the cafe were not happy with the new law. In fact, Delux used to be so smoke-filled, you could hardly see a foot in front of you.
The decor, such as it is, seems to be a layering of ideas from many styles. There's an Elvis wall, a collection of album covers (Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, Bobby Darin, early Tom Jones), and a small Christmas tree on the bar (undoubtedly, this saves on storage space). Music might be Louis Armstrong, Astrud Gilberto, Mario Lanza, or Petula Clark.
Delux's kitchen is miniscule, which I know because you pass by it to and from the restrooms. It's also where I saw how they get the quesadillas so crisp. They're cooked on a flat, greased griddle -- the kind you see in diners. The black beans inside are very highly seasoned, and there's only enough cheese to keep the half-moons sealed but not dripping. The quesadilla and the chips ($5.95), which are griddle-fried flour tortillas, come with a delectable jalapeño and mango salsa.
The menu changes every six weeks. The last one included an inspired vegetarian selection -- a stuffed portobello ($11.95) heaped with a spray of asparagus, Spanish onions, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese over rice. A roasted turkey and ham grinder ($8.95), with chipotle mayonnaise, was everything a pressed sandwich should be. Baby back ribs ($12.95), on that menu's list of specials, included a fine potato salad, slaw, and corn. Only a pan-fried buffalo chicken with bacon, asparagus, and blue cheese ($12.95) seemed odd. It was over the top but someone's idea of inventive.
Returning for a new menu, we were surprised to see several selections with one ingredient too many. Mediterranean arugula salad ($5.95) boasted thick slices of tough eggplant and a tasteless artichoke with a delicious pomegranate dressing over nice greens. The chips and quesadilla were still outstanding. Lime-and-chili marinated shrimp, skewered on a sugar cane ($12.95), were served over truffled couscous (ouch); one or both had an off smell.
The small, rare New Zealand lamb chops from the rack ($12.95) were a hit and a bargain. The chops were covered with crushed pecans and served with a blackberry-mint sauce. Tender golden fingerling potatoes and a handsome mound of garlicky spinach came on the plate. A stuffed Statler breast ($12.95) as a special, with a mushroom ragout and rice and more of that wonderful mango salsa, was a well-made dish.
Between the second and third visits, the weather got warmer and the food got more complicated. But I suspect that it will swing back. You have to love a place where you can drink and dine for such reasonable prices. And as everything in this neighborhood becomes more and more chic, Delux seems to get divier. Which is fine with me.