There was a time -- too long ago to say without sounding like an old coot -- when the 500 block of Selby Avenue was one of my favorite drop-by dining addresses, because it was the home of the much-missed Francesca's Bakery and Cafe. Now, thanks to the Cheeky Monkey Deli -- located across the street from what was once Francesca's -- St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood has a new venue for thoughtfully prepared, counter-service fare.
It's no accident that chef/co-owner Matt McArthur chose the former Zander Cafe for his new venue; he cooked there for nearly a year, and "I've loved this area ever since," he said. McArthur's dream was to do a deli. Not one based on the familiar New York-Jewish model, but instead one that follows the soup-sandwich-hot plate template of the delis he loves in London.
The chalkboard menu features a short list of hot and cold sandwiches, made using house-smoked and -cured meats and sold in the $5 to $8 range. Options include bacon and a fried egg on toast, a pressed grilled Swiss-fontina-Cheddar combo garnished with caramelized onions, a stack of roast beef topped with a tangy blue cheese dressing and sun-dried tomatoes and a classic muffuletta. There are a few abundantly portioned salads ($7 and $8), including a plate of greens tossed with chickpeas, cucumbers, bits of tarragon and pint-size shrimp. Dinner plates ($8) are standards such as pot roast, meatloaf, slow-roasted pork shoulder and turkey or chicken pot pie, served with a few side dishes ($3) such as roasted vegetables or grits. There are also changes-daily cheese and meat selections ($10). The no-nonsense desserts include a rich chocolate pudding, super-fudgy brownies and buttery M&M-pocked blondies.
There's a brief and affordable beer and wine list, and the appealing setting seems designed with comfort in mind. In short, the Cheeky Monkey is just what the neighborhood has been missing.