Having spent my youth north of the Mason-Dixon Line, there are times here in the not-so Deep South when I long for the sights, the tastes and the smells of “home.” One of these is the “mom and pop” neighborhood delicatessen and bakery that my family regularly frequented.

Curious, I checked back the other day and found that its ownership had passed from parents to the son who transformed the deli that I and my family knew into … well, they have gas pumps out front, if that’s any indication.

Fortunately for me, Johnson City has a new business that lays claim to being our ‘burg’s first Jewish deli-bakery, West Walnut Street’s Crumb Bakeshop.

First impressions

Located on the newly renovated Model Mill property, Crumb Bakeshop occupies the mill’s former executive office building at the corner of West Walnut and Sevier streets. From there, Crumb Bakeshop can attract both the curious and the hungry from East Tennessee State University, the nearby Tree Streets neighborhood and also downtown Johnson City. Parking is found in the handy Model Mill lot. The cramped office that once ran the mill is no more, being replaced with a bright, airily open dining area and service line, supported by an extensive and well-appointed kitchen and bakery. Restrooms for the Bakeshop customers can be found down a hall at the far end of the dining area.

Russian black bread with lox and dill

In addition to Jewish-inspired baked goods like rugelach pastry and challah bread, owners Katelyn and Lauren Jones are bringing to menu some of the items I can recall seeing on offer at that deli of my youth. Items like a personal favorite of mine, lox served open face on Russian black bread with sour cream and fresh dill ($10), sided with a nice pickled cucumber salad.

Lox is another word for smoked salmon, and usually comes with a side order of thick sour cream. The lox supplies smoky, delicate fishy flavor that matches well with the dense, slightly sour richness and texture of the Russian black bread.

The sour cream’s acidity offsets the smokiness of the salmon, while the dill adds a bright essence of fresh-mown grass; subtle, but definitely there. My cucumber salad recalled memories of the early days with my dining partner and her mother, the redoubtable Mamaw, of canning parties where I got to taste what was being put up for the winter and, surprisingly, asked my opinion on how it tasted.

Pastrami on Wheat

My dining partner has always had a thing for a good corned beef sandwich or, even better, a Reuben prepared “her way.” Her question about the difference between corned beef and pastrami got a retort from me about letting her taste buds tell the difference.

For those of you that are curious, corned beef and pastrami both come from beef brisket. The corned beef comes from the larger and leaner end cut, while pastrami is found in the middle, fatty portion of the brisket.

Corned beef is derived from having the beef brisket undergo a “corning” process using curing brine containing a spice medley of mustard seed, coriander and allspice among others.

Pastrami, on the other hand, adds smoking to the brining and drying process, with more spices rubbed into the meat at the end of the smoking portion.

Bakeshop employee Stephanie did such a good job of explaining the difference, my dining partner ordered a pastrami on wheat bread as her sandwich ($7) sided with some bagel chips and a rough-cut relish of sweet pickles and spicy-hot red peppers. The pastrami was sliced correctly, deli-thin and piled high on the nicely toasted slices of the Crumb Bakeshop-produced toasted wheat bread. Very nice indeed.

And for dessert … a rugelach apiece

As I was clearing our table, some rugelach pastries were beckoning me seductively from the display case. Now, I hadn’t had a correctly baked rugelach pastry since I’d moved south, and finding a quantity of them found me reflexively reaching for my wallet. Fortunately, I had just enough cash left to get two of the little dears (at $1.50 each) as our dessert.

Rugelach is a cream cheese dough that is layered with yummy sweet fillings (nuts and chocolate in mine, please) rolled up, sliced thin and baked into a light, delicate and crumbly “cookie,” a proper finish for your meal.

The bottom line

It is good to see Crumb Bakeshop owners Katelyn and Lauren settling in, bringing a new and definitely needed addition to Johnson City’s Model Mill and West Walnut Street development projects.

My dining partner will be returning to sample more of their menu in their bright and cheery location. The bakeshop isn’t far out of anybody’s way, so you’ve no excuse for not stopping by and tasting for yourself.

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