Religion, politics, taxes, crunchy or smooth peanut butter; some topics are too emotional and wired with explosives to discuss with anyone you don’t know very well, and even then, only with caution, an open mind and a carbon fiber blast shield.
And that notion is one of the things that make Yellow Deli (roughly 9th & Pearl, next to the West End Tavern) an oddball and strangely awesome place. They have the seemingly insane balls to make their little restaurant a propaganda tool for their beliefs, which are espoused in old world, if not puerile, fashion in their leaflets and painted wall murals. In Boulder at least, that form of proselytization is like walking the wrong way around the prayer stone (See: Midnight Express, screenplay by Oliver Stone, Circa 1978), especially since some of the tenets of Twelve Tribes are, in my opinion kinda bonkers. But wait a second…you want to know about the food experience, so let’s dig in.
The eating is good, know that, but first you need to get inside. It’s easy to walk past the unassuming wood sign and single two-top table out front. The place is overshadowed by Dave Query’s titanic twosome, West End Tavern and Jax Fish House, both of which are lined up just east of the Deli. On the other hand, maybe something catches your eye—like the store hours, which tell you that Yellow Deli is open 24 hours a day until Friday at 3, reopening on Sunday at noon. For me, a random visit when they were building the interior drew me in. The crew, decked out in Amish-like clothing seemed to be really into it, working diligently into the night.
You enter a cloistered, low-ceilinged shire when you step into Yellow Deli. Every table, booth, fixture and hook is hand crafted out of some wood (seemingly) from an old barn in Vermont, or maybe a 17th century church pew. The attention to detail is pretty much unheard of in modern, paint-by-numbers chain restaurants, but even by Boulder’s upscale and artsy standards this hobbit hole is meticulously hewn. If a surface isn’t cloaked in hand stitched leather and brass brads, or dove-tail joined in a clever, snaggle-toothed hominess, it is invisible to the naked eye. Once you sink into one of the funky shaped, high-backed booths, you see that the menu reinforces the homemade, real-people, theme. Monochromatic and hand-written in a 1960’s style, the food sounds simple yet promising: A chef’s salad, a Reuben sandwich, a hot dog, a parfait.
The fare ranges from $2 for the Muffin of the Day, to about $8 for a sandwich. I’ve personally tried several sandwiches, soups (including their chili), salads, drinks and desserts, and this is no lie: each time they manage to provide the elusive “give the customer more than they expect” axiom. Take the chili, for example: hearty, tasty if not thrilling, but comes with—get this—a loaf of artisan bread on it’s own cutting board. Onions, cheddar…whipped butter? Yes, yes and yes. Seven bucks! What, on Pearl Street? Yep. The Reuben is a high calorie comfort food party. Buttery griddled rye jammed with corned beef and oozing with pockets of melty Swiss. The potato chips that come with are crispy and good, if not a bit too much of a shove towards arteriosclerosis following the Reuben bomb. The taste, though, is awesome. Again, and with pretty much all their food, you won’t be blown away by the inventiveness, cool hipster ingredients or highbrow presentation. The thing that will knock your wig back is the execution and Live-For-Today rich nom nom nom-iness of it all.
Although, religious hits aside, it may seem as though this is a paid-for shill of a review, it’s not. I have to say that because I’m about to rave about something else: the service. Although it varies from server to server, the thread of absolute patience, lack of ‘up selling’ and complete absence of irony or sarcasm is….insanely nice. It takes some getting used to before you believe it. I mean, are they serious when you sit there for 2 hours with just a cup of tea and you don’t get the slightest hint of scram from the wait staff? Yes, they are serious about that in a friendly, maybe slightly glazed, Children-of-the-Corn way. They are earnest if nothing else. My silly and fumbling 2nd grade humor (a request for separate plates for each of my utensils, for instance) is met with a gentle smile and a nod. Then, moments later, 3 little plates, each with a spoon, knife and fork—PLUS DOILY—arrive. No snarky comments, just humble obedience. Don’t be a D-Bag and abuse this sincerity, like me, just enjoy it and know that it exists in the world.
The thing all these sweet folks behind the Yellow Deli may believe in, the whole Twelve Tribes religion, is the part that’s harder to swallow. I am nobody to judge someone else’s beliefs, but check out a couple of the Twelve Tribes alleged customs and thoughts (according to Wikipedia) ranging from nutty & quaint, to creepy:
- Couples can’t hold hands until or unless they are engaged and the entire community has a powwow to determine if that is acceptable.
- Non Twelver’s may be tossed straight into a Lake of Fire (a kind of super unpleasant spa) at death, while the believers rest snug, presumably on billowy clouds.
- Beating kids with wet reeds is an accepted method of corporal punishment.
- The founder, a whacky cat named Spriggs, has been alleged by some to hold racist beliefs (like Abraham Lincoln was a fool to endorse abolition) and to promulgate the idea of cursed races. Whether these are official views of the Twelve Tribes I can’t say.
In fairness, all of the above “beliefs” may be rumor, someone’s opinion, or outright falsehoods, but they are found in the Twelve Tribes entry in Wikipedia. And if the folks you meet at the Pearl Street shire showed the slightest hint of racism, sexism or jerky behavior, it’d be hard if not impossible to give them any positive press. But the fact is, I don’t know what these individuals—all of whom live together in a commune, it is said—actually believe, practice or preach. I do know that the food, service and décor, in and of themselves, are special, really special and may deserve a visit. Decide for yourself but watch that lewd hand holding, will ya?