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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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FOOD AND DRINK

Signature Deli makes its mark on the west side
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A reliable sandwich shop can be a godsend to the worn-down cubicle employee. Some days, there isn't enough coffee in the world to keep you in the office, and the prospect of another Big Mac is just about enough to put you into a fugue state.

On those days, you want to throttle your friends who work downtown or on the near east side and have Mermaid and the Weary Traveler and Coopers Tavern to keep them functioning. For those far-west-siders who work, or live, in the Junction Road/Old Sauk area, you've been given another option: Signature Deli.

The deli, on Junction Road in the shadow of Johnson Bank and TDS Telecommunications, brings a little bit of Greece to an otherwise nondescript area. It's decorated in blues and whites, with a smattering of olives and amphorae. It's Greek in the nice way, not in the gaudy "murals of the Peloponnese" kind of way.

The sprawling menu board lists sandwiches that prominently feature Boar's Head Provisions, a reliable maker of quality deli meats. There are no prices accompanying the many bread/meat/cheese permutations, but in general everything's so reasonable here that there's almost no need for them. Every sandwich ends up around $7.

Yes, there's roast beef and turkey and tuna salad. There's a veggie panini with gouda, eggplant and spinach. There are also a few brave deviations from the usual. The terrific Granny's Ham Sandwich features pungent provolone and tart apple slices. The Parma Delight, with prosciutto, fontina cheese and fig jam, reminded me of a sandwich at the renowned Salumi in Seattle. The Capital Trail is a Reuben by way of Memphis (with coleslaw subbing for kraut); there's also a straight-up Reuben.

There's only so much ad libbing that can be done with deli meats, though; a deli worth its pickle spears has to be able to fill the case with some quality salads and spreads to round out the menu. I tried a broad swath of Signature Deli's Mediterranean grain and pasta salads, thanks to a creation known as the Leslie, a platter of five salads of your choice for the same price as a sandwich combo (and that's right, the modest price of each sandwich comes with your choice of side). There's a slightly salty caprese salad and a classic potato salad. The unassuming "It's Greek to Me" salad is a nice mix of bowtie pasta, cheese, olive and dressing. (The similar Italian version was a touch milder, owing more flavor to its dressing.) Fans of dill will love the white bean salad; plus, the tender beans are as big as poker chips.

Not all salad bets pay off. The tabbouleh was aromatic and flavorful, though I prefer the version served at Mediterranean Hookah Lounge. There's a curry couscous salad with raisins, chickpeas and orange zest that has a lot going on but doesn't quite come together. And a grilled eggplant salad looks good, but anyone who has undercooked eggplant at home knows how bitter it can be. After trying Signature's version, now so do I.

Value carries over into Signature's weekday breakfast menu. A perfectly fine English muffin sandwich with either ham or bacon will run you about the same as the fast-food version, but is made to order; the egg is just a little soft in the middle. Three filling, saucer-sized pancakes are a bargain at $3, and served on a raging-hot plate. There are also omelets, waffles and combination platters if you're really hungry.

While ouzo caramels are tempting to the daring eater in me, I am compelled to recommend the flaky and decadent baklava for dessert instead, a hefty brick of a double portion that will keep you running on sugar well into the evening. You'll find the service to be anywhere from friendly to charmingly gruff, but for value and quality like this, I'll take gruff over an Arby's roast beef any day.

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