Tastes from the Vault

By Joe Torok

Deli offers foodies more than sandwiches

The bacon-flavored chocolate Jarred Browers sells at The Vault Delicatessen in Mason has a smoky saltiness and fabulous flavor that belies its peculiar name.

The candy, produced by Chicago-based gourmet chocolatier Vosges, is just one example of the unique, hard-to-find products upon which Browers has built his eight-month-old business.

Part deli, part boutique, The Vault is all gourmet, providing the kind of experience one expects roaming the quirky shops of Lansing’s Old Town. Gourmet olives, mustards, jams, breads, sea salts and peppercorns fill the shelves of the small corner store.

Browers brings customers through the door with sandwiches and salads, but he keeps them coming back with an impressive selection of quality victuals. "When I started this place up, I didn’t want to have just the same old … deli-type place,” he says. “We have high-quality foods.”

Piling wasteful mounds of food on a customer's plate is not Browers' idea of food service.

"We don’t sell 18-inch sandwiches; our sandwiches are about this big," he says, pretending to hold an oversized hamburger. "But it's good quality meat; we bake our own bread, we make our own things like pesto and mayonnaise here."

For many restaurants, ingredients are chosen by chart from massive commercial food suppliers, such as Sysco. At The Vault, product choices come from actual tastings by the staff, including the sizable selection of wines. Browers, a burgeoning red wine connoisseur in his own right, says he's tasted every vintage he sells.

He picks up a bottle of Wall Cellars' Zinfindel from the shelf in a small room that used to actually be a bank vault for the previous tenet, Dart Bank. "Really big, juicy berries up front, and then it finishes off with some nice cloves, peppery, little spicy flavor," he says of the wine. "I like the wines that give me a roller coaster on my pallet."

The wines come mostly from smaller, quality-focused vineyards. "A lot of our wines are small production wines [from] family-owned wineries [producing] 1,000 cases or less," Browers says. "The wines are going to be more full-flavored and better made, because the people who own the companies are out there in the fields, making the wines."

The Vault also features dozens of beers from local and national microbreweries.

In the deli, Browers carries the same hands-on philosophy as many of his suppliers. "I'm out here everyday, making sandwiches, so I connect with those places a lot better," he says. Many sandwiches are made with Dietz & Watson meats, a premium brand that specializes in minimal processing.

The Brooklyn Rueben ($7.25), served with a piquant couscous salad, is a sweeter version of the traditional Rueben. Coleslaw replaces sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing stands in for Russian dressing, tempering the tanginess and giving the sandwich a more sweet and savory character. The Alberino Sicilian ($8.25) combines four Italian meats, including Prosciutto di Parma, with provolone, lettuce and homemade sundried tomato pesto sauce on sundried tomato bread.

A genuine foodie, Browers seems always ready to talk about the best there is in the world to eat. He also provides samples of nearly everything he sells. "My favorite thing is when people taste something they've never tasted before and say, 'Wow! That was amazing.'"

The Vault Delicatessen, 368 S. Jefferson St., Mason. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. (517) 676-2696. www.thevaultdeli.com.