by Eric Ginsburg
It’s quite possible that no human has ever held a hambone quite as triumphantly as the mascot for TJ’s Deli, a flying rooster resplendent in a cape, Superman-esque underoos, matching gloves, bulging and muscular arms, a ham raised high overhead and a slight, knowing smirk.
The front page of the deli’s menu trumpets the Super Cham more explicitly than its own name, making no mention of any food items — those are inside — save for the signature dish.
The business knows what it’s doing though; it’s been operating longer than I’ve been alive, and runs two locations in Winston-Salem. The regulars at this institution all have their favorites, no doubt, but I’m willing to wager that most first-timers go for some version of the Cham.
The classic Cham (which is apparently trademarked, according to the menu) consists of a tender chicken breast, buttermilk battered and deep-fried, with ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a burger bun. The sandwich comes wrapped in wax paper, like a steaming gift with chicken poking out from between the buns.
There are four versions of the Cham — get it, “chicken” and “ham” put together? — the classic, the Super Cham with an extra large chicken portion and a buffalo variety of each where the chicken is dipped in wing sauce and bleu cheese is subbed for the mayo.
Which of the four to pick is a matter of personal preference; when I showed up with three other first-timers, one friend ordered the classic and another the buffalo Cham while I went for the Super. Another fellow newcomer opted for the smoked turkey, one of many other options, and a return customer who recommended we come — and who specifically endorsed the Cham as the reason to show up — branched out to the “Bacocheese” burger, to which she added bleu cheese.
The Super Cham looks like it is on steroids, a gigantic portion of chicken that swelled up like a puffer fish wearing a piece of ham as a hat. The succulent sandwich is a mouthful for sure, and it’s easy to see why TJ’s parades it so prominently.
But next time I’m switching teams to the buffalo variety and dropping down to the normal size. Why? Because TJ’s also offers house chips that are a perfect balance between crispy and soft, and there’s a small ice-cream shop attached at the front right of the restaurant. The super size is tasty, for sure, but I’d rather indulge in the best of both worlds and add some homemade ice cream — the country peach or citrus vanilla, maybe — to the mix.
Joanna, our intern, noted that her turkey sandwich arrived so tall that it would prove difficult to fit in her mouth, a good sign for a sandwich, we agreed. Everyone liked the crunchy fries and house chips, and Lamar and Bethany both endorsed their Cham varietals.
TJ’s Deli and Grill may stake its brand on the Cham, but there are dozens of other options including a few vegetarian choices such as a veggie wrap, veggie sandwich, a grilled cheese, a salad bar and possibly soup. The veggie wrap with tomato, broccoli, green pepper, mushrooms, onions, banana peppers, shredded carrots, spring mix greens, Swiss cheese and thousand-island dressing is likely the most solid choice. But those who like the sound of cheesy chicken hoagie, “Big Ole Pastrami,” Quarterback Club with roast beef, turkey and bacon or a hot Sicilian sandwich will feel more at home.
Those are the sorts of things that make TJ’s Deli a Winston-Salem hallmark. And the Cham. Mostly that glorious Cham (TM).
Visit TJ’s Deli at 5017 Country Club Road (W-S) or 1211 Silas Creek Parkway. See tjsdeligrill.com for more information.