Even without the occasional line out the door and the umbrellaed tables on the sidewalk, it would be hard to miss Leven Deli, because of its distinctive brick facade and architectural features.
It’s conveniently within easy walking distance to the Denver Art Museum. In fact, it’s part of what’s known as Denver’s Golden Triangle, which also boasts proximity to downtown, the state Capitol and the Civic Center.
Whether or not there’s a line, Leven’s is worth investigating because, despite its name, it is more than a delicatessen. In fact, its alter-egos are a morning breakfast/coffee spot and wine bar in the late afternoon/early evening. Nonetheless, the focus of this review is on sandwiches — and cookies.
Leven Deli bakes naturally leavened sourdough and rye breads (gluten–free bread is available for an upcharge). Its pastrami is dry aged in-house for 12 days, which indicates attention to detail. This process does not lend itself to shortcuts and explains why, according to an employee, the Classic Pastrami on rye ($17) is one of the deli’s most popular sandwiches, followed closely by the Pastrami Rueben ($29) and the Rachel ($18).
Most of the sandwiches are grilled, adding a toasty taste and texture. The Classic features a substantial amount of the famed aged beef, robust mustard (also a Leven product), gooey, melted Swiss cheese and thick homemade pickle slices. It’s called a classic for a reason: It has no add-ons beyond the standard ingredients, something I appreciated.
The Rachel is a spin on a Reuben, but the pastrami is replaced by smoked turkey. Otherwise, two slices of toasted rye are slathered with Russian dressing embracing sliced turkey, coleslaw and melted Swiss cheese. It’s actually Jarlsberg cheese, a mild form of Swiss.
If pastrami on rye isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options, all of which highlight fresh ingredients and house made breads. The roasted tomato pesto with mozzarella ($17) is the best of summer flavors between slices of thick but airy rosemary focaccia. Arugula adds peppery flavor. This is a large sandwich, so it’s either a good one to split or take half home for later.
The smashed chickpea on grilled sourdough flatbread ($15) is a jumble of marinated chickpeas, mashed avocado, tahini yogurt, red cabbage and pickled onions. It looks like a large Mediterranean tostada. There’s a blend of crunch and chewiness in every bite.
All sandwiches come with a choice of sides ranging from fennel and mint coleslaw to pasta salad, from grilled marinated artichokes to chips. For some, there’s a $1.50 upcharge.
The menu includes freshly baked desserts: Huge Brownies ($5) and Big Ass Cookies ($3.50). These are Leven’s descriptions, not mine, although they’re certainly apt. The nearly-saucer-size cookies are a treat whether sharing or not. We sampled the snickerdoodle, which was buttery and coated with cinnamon sugar, and the chewy chocolate chip with the requisite amount of chips. We skipped the brownie, because we were simply too full to keep eating.
Staff is friendly, the ambiance is hip, and the food is worth standing in line for, although admittedly we didn’t have to wait long.
Leven Deli Co.
Delicatessen, bakery, wine bar
Location: 123 W. 12th Ave., Denver
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Details: Credit cards accepted. Alcohol. Outdoor dining. Wi-Fi.
Favorite dishes: Classic Reuben, mozzarella focaccia and snickerdoodle cookie
Other: Gluten-free and vegan options available.