You’ve got to love a restaurant whose motto is “eat and get out.” The original Village Deli was tiny but cozy and diners tended to linger and linger and linger over their coffee, eggs, and home fries. In the restaurant business, a table unturned is income lost, so the restaurant took to nudging their patrons-in-residence toward the door with server T-shirts that invited them to leave. Since Bob Costello bought the Village Deli in 1999, he has slowly expanded its 85 seats to a spacious 221 by absorbing the neighboring buildings, but people are still wont to hang around and the motto is unchanged, if somewhat tongue in cheek.
The Village Deli has been a Bloomington institution since 1980, when David Lockwood and Michael Paxton opened the joint on Kirkwood. Though they sold it to Costello, most of the menu and recipes are unchanged. (Witness the continuing presence of Paxton’s Potatoes—a calorie-happy plate of home fries lavished with sausage gravy, cheddar cheese, and chives—and Paxton’s Patty Melt, made with chicken and the Deli’s own “special sauce.”) The buttermilk pancakes, homemade granola, sour-cream coffee cake, and salads are all made in-house from original Village Deli recipes, and though there are a few new menu items like the Greek and Cajun omelets, a meal at the Village Deli can still be a nostalgic moment for the longtime Bloomington resident or returning alum.
There are changes at the Deli, but they are subtle. Costello also owns Laughing Planet and Soma Coffee House and Juice Bar, both of which serve healthy food made with local organic ingredients when possible. The green-business model has started to creep across the street to the Village Deli, where the eggs are now local, the Amish chicken is free range, and, when they can get the quantities they need, the produce is local, too. The Costello restaurants also recycle and compost with neighboring food establishments.
Another change under Costello is that the Deli now serves breakfast all day long. That means not just staples like the Village Special (two eggs any style, with home fries, toast, and coffee), but their really excellent Huevos Rancheros, the ridiculously large buttermilk pancakes (billed, in the menu, with eccentric capitalization as “OUR Famous COLOSSAL, HUGE, GINORMOUS, Fresh buttermilk pancakes”) and the Village Deli Special eggs (scrambled with mushrooms, cheddar, and chives) can be eaten for lunch and dinner, too.
If you are not a breakfast-for-lunch or -dinner kind of person, the menu offers a pun-studded array of sandwich options, such as “Carmichael’s Hoagie,” and “A Bird for the Wise,” a Thanksgiving-like sandwich of turkey and cranberry sauce.
What pleases Costello most about his restaurant is that it hosts a small representation of the whole Bloomington community—townspeople, students, and faculty all sitting next to each other generating a warm buzz of contentment and good will. Just don’t get too comfortable. At the Village Deli, you still need to eat and get out.