Makansutra: Long-time Steeple's Deli still going strong
Tucked away in Tanglin Shopping Centre, it is still good as gold after 37 years
When my makan buddy Vincent Lim invited me for a chomp at Steeple's Deli, I was stunned.
"You mean it is still open for business?"
After all, Steeple's is Singapore's first deli, opened about 37 years ago in a charming corner of the then-popular Tanglin Shopping Centre.
This fading, woody, musky yet functioning mall is the most quaint in the Orchard area in my books.
You will not find the usual same old shops and brands offering pharmaceuticals or brightly lit Japanese or European mass clothing chains or fast-food eateries.
The mall's fastest eatery is a little economy rice cafe where you get served faster than at the burger chains.
You'll see stalls selling collector eyewear, antique shops, medical centres, camera shops, cosy little pubs, cafes, small boutiques and popular still-standing restaurants such as Tambuah Mas and the Magic of Chongqing Hot Pot.
But back to Steeple's.
Boss David Mun partnered founder Alex Steele way back and took over this counter seat deli completely when Mr Steele retired in 2006.
"Customers come today and ask if I remember them, saying they were here as kids 20-plus years ago with their parents," said Mr Mun with a laugh, adding that he nods although he cannot recognise many of the second- or third-generation customers.
These patrons return for the ever-appealing classic American deli offerings.
The Reuben Sandwich ($16.90) is a top seller - "just see the stars next to the menu items", Mr Mun advised.
The eatery does not use the usual corned beef but slices of glorious pastrami, with a grilled mixed cheese sitting atop.
Bite in and a deck of crunchy and not-too-sour sauerkraut hidden inside will contain all that richness within the toasted rye bread.
The dish of Pork Loin Chops ($17.90) is a memory booster - the loins have a lovely flavour and texture, and these cuts are comfortably firm to the bite, moist and naturally flavoured. Herbs, salt and pepper are sprinkled over the nicely seared chops.
It all came back to me after the first bite, it was like how I remembered the old Hainan English cafes served them.
The Steeple's Burger ($20.90), done with a firm and imperfectly shaped beefy patty, boasts melted cheese, bacon and an oozy sunny side up egg atop. The whole thing just teases you to devour it, which I did.
I was staring at the Cuban S/W ($17.90) on the menu (after all the above) and in a blink I was biting into crispy, crunchy toasted focaccia bread with grilled cheese, ham, tomato and a home-made sauce. It came together nicely but it was the crispy grilled focaccia that got me.
You can hardly find a decent, let alone long-standing Singapore brand deli these days, but Steeple's still carries that torch proudly.
It has its small set of old-time regulars but this will pique the interest of a new foodie generation who wants not just flavours but also stories and heritage, and the Mun family delivers.
#02-24/25, Tanglin Shopping Centre, 19 Tanglin Road 10.30am to 6.30pm
Closed on Sundays and public holidays
K.F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram