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Recently: Brown bagging on the streets of Carrboro

By Valarie Schwartz

There have been recent reports of Carrboro pedestrians walking around in the vicinity of South Greensboro and Main streets covetously carrying brown paper bags. There have been no reports of people drinking from the bags, but some may have been “huffing” from them.

Further investigation revealed more of the same.

No wonder — the classic brown paper bags have been streaming from Neal’s Deli, where the surge is not for the bags, but the real deal inside — delicatessen sandwiches — and the bodacious aromas they provide.
The deli-done-right duo of Matt and Sheila Neal have been talking about how to venture forth culinary-wise during much of their 10-year relationship.

“Sheila was looking at doing something hospitality- and food-oriented,” said Matt, son of Moreton and Bill Neal, who together opened La Residence in the 1980s, while Bill later opened Crook’s Corner, two iconic Chapel Hill restaurants.

Matt and Sheila opened Neal’s Deli on April 4.

A deli, you may ask?

“That was Matt’s idea,” Sheila said.

“It seemed like a good fit for a neighborhood town,” Matt said. “And there was no deli in town.”

“It’s simple food done well,” Sheila added. “But it’s more deli than sandwich shop.”

Walk in — or simply drive past — on a day when they’re smoking pastrami and you’ll not only know it’s a deli, you may also be transcended back to your first delicatessen experience. If the aroma sends you — wait until that first bite (especially of the Manhattan). Then you’ll understand the gaze on the faces of the brown-baggers looking for a place to sit down and dive in.

Some folks forego the bag altogether and stay at Neal’s, where there are three tables inside and a counter outside.

On market days, the atmosphere is like a family kitchen.

“We’re headed over to Neal’s,” Cathy Jones announced at noon-sharp the first Saturday that Neal’s was open, as she slammed shut the back of her Perry-winkle Farms truck and headed over with her husband, Mike Perry, and their helpers. Moments later, Neal’s had people lined up out the door, as farmers and market shoppers ordered from Matt and called out to Sheila, the former Carrboro Farmers’ Market manager, making sandwiches with the crew.

“They’ve been coming back,” Sheila said this week of the farmers who come over hungry after Wednesday and Saturday markets. They buy from her, but she also buys from them, creating daily sides and special sandwiches from ingredients she knows were grown or produced nearby, like the “Cheesy,” made with Hickory Grove cheese, or the “Frenchy,” made with Carolina Moon, both cheeses from Chapel Hill Creamery. The Italian deli meats come from Giacomo’s in Greensboro and the oh-so-good bread comes from Guglhupf Bakery in Durham.

Matt grew up here and considers Carrboro home and where he wanted to own a business.

“We looked at a bunch of places,” he said. “We held out for a place in Carrboro.”

Chandra Noyes, who works with the couple, has heard how happy people are that they opened where they did.

“People say a lot that they’re glad we’re here,” Noyes said. “I’m glad to be here too. I met Matt when I was a
little kid,” when Matt worked at Margaret’s Cantina, which her father co-owned. “I just moved back to town and saw Matt out here on the street one day trying to get the place ready.” Matt offered her a job. “I’m excited to be part of a new great business.”

“It’s really exciting to be part of the Carrboro business community,” Sheila said. “This is a bustling little area.”

“It’s a busy intersection, and Open Eye got people in the habit of hanging out,” Matt said. “I’ve been walking around this block my whole life wanting to do something like this.”

Popular opinion and brown bags about town would suggest that he’s doing it right.

Contact Valarie Schwartz at 923-3746 or valariekays@mac.com

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