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Lunchtime (And Beyond) Hero

From Pastrami to Smashed Chickpeas, Leven Deli Co. Updates the Classics

The story of Leven Deli Co. can be told in two sandwiches: the Pastrami Reuben and the Smashed Chickpea.

The former is the deli’s best-seller, and it was created by Leven’s unlikely chef, Luke Hendricks. Luke was a fine dining chef, not a high-volume sandwich shop chef, and when Leven owner Anthony Lygizos first met Luke—while working at one of Denver’s top restaurants, Potager—he wasn’t sure he could convince him to trade maple miso reductions for mustard, or table for counter service.

But Luke hopped on the deli train with Anthony—in part because of Leven’s fundamental principles of creating a better work environment for restaurant industry folk by not staying open too late and paying fair wages—and the two got to work revamping the menu, including creating that epic pastrami. With his background of working with top-quality ingredients using refined techniques, Luke developed a 12-day aging system for Leven’s pastrami. First, he marinates the meat in a wet brine of pickling spices, including coriander, garlic, Aleppo chiles and paprika. Over the 12 days, those flavors penetrate the meat, seasoning every cell (and in turn, every bite).

Next, the meat is dried and coated in salt, pepper, brown sugar and a couple other secret spices before being smoked over hickory for six to eight hours. At this point, it’s ready to be sliced thin and hit the flattop for a quick grill, where it’s then piled thick on house-made rye bread with baby Swiss cheese, pickled cabbage and Russian dressing. “It’s a pound and a half when all is said and done,” Anthony says. “Hands down the Reuben is the best seller. For the longest time, we couldn’t keep it in stock—we’d sell out every day for about two years.”

While the Pastrami Reuben reflects the care Leven takes with its ingredients, the Smashed Chickpea sandwich evokes the part of the deli’s name that means lightness. “Our menu is fifty-fifty veggie and meat options,” Anthony says. “It’s a better fit for today.”

It’s also the only sandwich that ever outsells that Reuben. A sort of deconstructed hummus, the Smashed Chickpea features a rough-chopped marinated chickpea salad, tahini lemon sauce, smashed avocado, pickled onions and radish, all grilled on sourdough flatbread. A vegetarian sandwich may be a strange thing for a deli to be known for, but it’s illustrative of Leven’s mission to update and improve upon what we think a deli can be.

Here's another thing a deli can be: a wine bar. Because yes, Leven is part European-style wine bar. Anthony worked as a sommelier at Aspen’s famed Little Nell, a property well-known for its wine program, and he wanted to bring his passion for wine to a casual, neighborhood setting.

Whether you walk into Leven looking for a sandwich or a glass of wine, you’ll find consistently great hospitality. “We strive to provide that five-star service,” Anthony says. “We love it when people say that it wasn’t a deli experience; that we gave that extra level of service. We pride ourselves on that. It’s people first in all shapes and forms.”

123 W. 12th Ave.; EatLeven.com

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