Peter Horne was the manager of the Ocoee Adventure Center on the Hiawassee for over a decade and absolutely loved it. On the weekends he cooked for the rafters on his Big Green Egg, smoking chickens until they were so tender and flavorful they melted in your mouth. After a while, he realized that the cooking was his favorite part of his job.
When he heard the Niedlov's space in St. Elmo was available, he made the plunge from the river to the skillet. Literally.
The St. Elmo Deli and Grill is up and running, and is right in front of the Incline parking lot. You place your order at the counter, eye to eye with a platter of red velvet cupcakes dolloped with thick cream cheese icing. It's hard to focus on the menu with those treats from Whisk staring me down. But I pull myself together and chat a little with Peter while deciding between the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich on Toasted Sourdough or the Club (turkey, swiss, avocado, ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and bacon drizzled with ranch dressing and served on toasted oat bread. He recommends the smoked chicken salad with bacon, peppers and red onion with the chicken he smokes out back on the Big Green Egg. Peter effuses about each item on the menu, obviously thrilled with his new endeavor.
The sandwiches are reasonable, $7.50 includes homemade chips, and the deli is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11-3 for now. He plans to start serving lunch on Sundays soon, and is playing with the idea of serving breakfast and/or dinner as well. He wants to know what the community wants, and he clearly aims to please.
Very community-oriented, Peter has a little library on one wall of the restaurant. "I heard about a bird house library on NPR, where people just leave their books for others to pick up and read and I thought what a great idea that was," Peter says. "Most of the books here were my mother's, but I'll be adding to the collection, and hopefully others will too." So on the book shelf are novels, magazines and a few children's books for customers to flip through as they eat. If they become absorbed in a particular plot, they are welcome to take the book with them, the premise being books will rotate in and out, just like a library.
Parking is free in front of the restaurant, but if the parking lot's full, Peter says to park in the Incline lot and pay the $1 charge. "I'll give you a drink on the house to make up for it, and you can enter the deli from the rear so you don't have to walk all the way around," he says.
I couldn't decide between the Chef Salad or the Philly Cheese (roast beef, sautéed peppers, onions and mushrooms with provolone and a horseradish cream in a chipotle wrap), but ended up with the Port, which is a portabella mushroom with roasted red pepper and banana pepper topped with spinach artichoke spread grilled on a hearty grain bread. I'll try other sandwiches, but not anytime soon. That Port sandwich was incredible!
Oh, and I had to try a Red Velvet Cake Ball. Dipped in chocolate, they're only 50 cents! Let's just say I wish I'd spent a whole dollar. Or two.
St. Elmo Deli & Grill, 825-5520 or 825-5555.