Julia Child once said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” Chilli Street Deli (so named for its Portsmouth location) has taken that message to heart.
Open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, Chilli Street Deli offers breakfast all day and features breakfast sandwiches, served on your choice of bagel, biscuits or toast as well as traditional egg and bacon or sausage combinations. Pancakes and bagels are also on the menu and, of course, biscuits and gravy. Every Friday, a large blue banner is hung outside announcing that fresh Amish doughnuts have been delivered! Some have referred to these tempting glazed doughnuts as being close in size to a small coffee cake.
Lunch selections offer a choice of deli sandwiches and wraps, six different salads, and an assortment of daily chili and soups. Both the wrap and sandwich listings have choices of turkey, ham, roast beef, and chicken. The wraps are available in wheat, white, or spinach. The sandwiches are served on white, rye, wheat, sour dough and multigrain breads or a crescent roll. Many guests choose the Deli’s special signature sauce as a finishing touch. If you have a taste for something different than the suggested combinations, you also have the option to “Create Your Own.”
Beverages include coffee, tea, pop, and juices. As a special feature, Chilli Street Deli has incorporated a selection of its own specially bottled 12 ounce soft drinks with flavors reminiscent of days past including fruit flavors, root beer, ginger beer, and vanilla cream. The bakery case displays freshly made cookies, muffins, cupcakes, pies, and scones that make choosing just one a difficult task.
Local delivery is available within the Portsmouth city limits and orders can be called in or faxed for pick up or delivery. There is also a discounted meal rate for those (children under 12 and seniors over 50) with smaller appetites.
The friendly, courteous, and caring staff headed by their “fearless leader” Manager Ronnie Whitt makes for an enjoyable and relaxing visit. It was the unanimous consensus from the staff that the best part of working at the deli was working with each other to provide the best dining experience possible as well as the friendly, comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant.
The deli also houses an Amish store selling a wide range of local Amish food products allowing for drop in shopping or browsing before or after your meal. A cozy loft and quiet meeting room in the rear of the building provide areas for those seeking a more private setting. The restaurant and these spaces can be booked for evening special events. Recent bookings have included civic club meetings, church groups, ladies’ clubs, birthday parties and showers.
When asked why he became involved in the Chilli Street Deli, owner and local attorney, John McHenry, answered, “I wanted to preserve the building.” Constructed in 1927, the original establishment was a recreational facility known as The Play House. It was restricted to men only and provided a bowling alley in the basement and billiards and pool on the first floor. The second floor was dedicated to those men interested in playing cards. A listing in the Portsmouth 1928 City Directory reads, “Cigars, Lunch, Billiards, and Bowling.” Rumor has it – that considering this period in United States history – there might have been an offering of “special beverages” as well. In any event, sometime between 1975 and 1976 the Portsmouth City Directory shows that the very popular K & M Restaurant moved from its 611 Chillicothe location to The Play House’s 612 Chillicothe location across the street. K & M Restaurant continued there until the owner retired and closed its doors in the late 1980s. Since that time, several restaurants have occupied the building for short periods of time and most recently the space housed a real estate office. It was then refurbished by McHenry who convinced Whitt, owner of the Jim Dandy Drive Inn, to assist with its management, and the establishment re-opened as Chilli Street Deli December 1, 2012.
In the course of this rotation of owners, the bowling alley no longer exists, but the location of the lanes can still be discerned. The first floor, meeting room, and loft are now entirely dedicated to the Chilli Street Deli. McHenry hopes to convert the second floor into a residential loft.
McHenry’s initial purpose in preserving the building is very focused and most sincere, but what has evolved in his endeavor to do so is a warm, friendly restaurant that helps in the revival of downtown Portsmouth by providing another weekday dining option. In addition, it supports part of the local culture with the sale of Amish products and, last but far from least, it is a delightfully cozy niche. How often can one say all of that about a restaurant?
Photos By:Ken Carlson
Chilli Street Deli 612 Chillicothe Street Portsmouth, Ohio
Phone: 740-351-1200 Fax: 740-351-1210
Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.