As "time-starved" shoppers and workers search for the perfect balance of time and money, the newly-opened McAlister's Deli in the Worldgate Shopping Center is worth a visit. Yes, it is a "limited service" chain, where you order at a counter and your food is brought to your table by a server. This ensures that your food is made fresh and cooked at your order, not in batches in a deep fat fryer. In fact, nothing in this deli is fried or greasy, as they specialize in only fresh ingredients. Limited service also means that your service is quick and tipping isn't a necessity, which also saves money.
Their ingredients are upscale, with Black Angus roast beef, Black Forest ham, caramelized onions, brie cheese, roasted corn and poblano pepper relish and interesting breads like baguette, ciabatta and focaccia. Their portions are very generous, and even if you order a 1/2 order of two different items, like I frequently do, each of their "halves" are what I would normally declare a "whole" portion.
Their signature overloaded baked potato, or Spud Max, is a huge, football-beast of a potato, packed with hot black forest ham, Butterball smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar-jack cheese, green onions, black olives with sour cream on the side. Bring a big bib and friends to attack this monster at lunch. It is just delicious ($7.29). There are eight different baked potato versions, and a 1/2 order of any of their baked potato is a "normal" size potato with all of their outrageous toppings.
Their grilled sandwiches are fantastic, and my favorite is the Spicy Southwest Chicken Griller, with grilled chicken breast topped with guacamole, fire-roasted corn and poblano pepper relish, pepper jack cheese and chipotle ranch on a fresh ciabatta roll. Kids 12 and under order from a kids menu that includes a drink for $3.99.
Now for the real reason I like McAlisters—their famous brewed, fresh iced tea. I spent a lot of time at the counter watching (covertly) as their worker prepared it. It is made in an industrial-size, Mr. Coffee-type contraption in the store, just behind the front counter, and a large amount of crushed tea leaves are poured into a brewing basket, and the tea is brewed like drip coffee. No, it is not instant tea mixed with water, it is actually brewed "for eight minutes" then transferred over into dispenser on the other side of the register area.
He saw me watching him. "Would you like that iced tea with a fresh lemon slice?" "Yes, please!" Everyone is offered a fresh lemon slice with their brew. It is a "black tea blend that is rainforest certified" according to their website, and free refills are offered at the counter. It is sweetened while it is hot with actual sugar, and not high-fructose corn syrup. For $1.99 it is worth every penny, and I make sure I get at least one refill before I walk out the door, so I am sipping on their heavenly brew as I am finishing my shopping. (It is also offered sugar free, and tastes just as good with some Splenda.) I am a serious fan of good iced tea, and this place won me over with the first sip.
The sandwiches are great, but I have a distinct fondness for their salads, especially their Savannah Chopped Salad, which has grilled chicken breast, dried cranberries, gorgonzola cheese (that is what attracted me in the first place, as I love gorgonzola cheese), honey-roasted almonds, tomatoes and cucumbers, with their Sherry Shallot dressing. It is every bit as good as it sounds, especially with their slightly sweet dressing. All of their salads are very generous in portions, and are $7.29 to $7.79. All of their salads are offered in half portions as well (with the "choose two" special). The "choose two" is what I usually order, as it is only $6.99. Their chili in a bread bowl is also perfect on a wintry day, as it is served in a bread bowl for only $5.69.
This place is very crowded during the week at lunch time, and is great for grabbing a movie at the theater next door in the evening. Hooray for McAlisters for picking Herndon as their location (the other locations are Richmond, Roanoke and Front Royal).