You can quibble and kvetch all you want about how Jason's isn't a real deli ' where's the matzo ball soup, you'll ask? The nova lox? Fair enough. I'll cede that this chain based out of Beaumont, Texas, doesn't conform to Delancey Street standards, but it's pretty much unrivaled on Colonial Drive. In fact, not since the days when Schlotzky's occupied a small space across from the Fashion Square Mall has there been a deli worth visiting in the area.
And no matter what time you go, you're sure to witness some sweaty gym-rat spillage from the L.A. Fitness next door. But you can't blame them, considering Jason's guarantee of a trans fat'free dining experience, highlighted by a section of the menu devoted to 'healthy heart slimwichesâ?� ' wraps and sandwiches low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium. A decent salad bar ($6.59), properly attended to and always stocked with fresh vegetables, is another popular option for the health- conscious, not that the rest of the menu, with its paninis, wraps, salads, soups, po'boys, traditional sandwiches and muffulettas, is an artery-clogging affair. Muffulettas, by the way, are waggishly referred to as 'muffâ?� sandwiches, and those of you with enough gumption to order the 'whole muffâ?� ($10.99) with a straight face will be rewarded with an enormous 9-inch muffuletta filled with layers of provolone, olive mix and your choice of ham, salami or oven-roasted turkey (half- and quarter-muff sandwiches are also offered).
I opted for the slightly less obscene-sounding Reuben the Great ($7.29). The corned beef wasn't hot, as advertised, but it was warm and piled high on Swiss-laid, doughy rye. What I really liked was that the sauerkraut was still crunchy and not overly sharp, likely because of a shorter fermentation cycle. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that the soft bread ultimately succumbed to the beefiness and tore. The cup of chili-thick vegetable soup ($2.59) felt particularly comforting on this rainy evening with its heart-healthy broth of plump lima beans, corn and carrot wedges. The Sergeant Pepper po'boy ($6.59), a Texas take on the French dip sandwich layered with thin slices of roast beef, sauteed onions, bell peppers and a provolone smother, had a surprising kick, and a dunk in the jus made it all the more mouthwatering. Again, the only complaint was the texture of the bread; it could've used a bit more toasting. The barbecue brisket sandwich ($6.99), one of their daily specials, wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable as the others, primarily because of the overwhelmingly sweet sauce. Of course, you're free to custom-build your own sandwich from the assortment of meats, breads, fillers and dressings available.
The gargantuan baked potatoes seem like byproducts of a nuclear accident, but the secret of their girth, I later found out, is the fusion of two large spuds to create an Atkins nightmare. Potatoes are baked for an hour, then microwaved when your order is placed. The spud au broc ($5.79), a meal in itself, is loaded with broccoli heads, green onions, bacon and gooey cheddar, though a petite half-size is available for $1 less.
The sizable dining space is accoutred with ceiling fans and photographs of European cityscapes (which I thought slightly odd), and is designed to handle large numbers of patrons. Their system ' place your order, take a number, have a seat and wait for your food to be brought out ' isn't without its flaws. My strawberry shortcake ($2.99) failed to materialize, so I had to retrieve it myself from the counter. And I'm glad I did. The two layers of cake filled with cream, flavored with vanilla and topped with strawberry slices was a light and not-too-sweet capper.
But there's no harm in saving your cash and settling for a cup or two of complimentary low-fat ice cream. Like most of the offerings here, it's a suitable antidote to guilty consciences.