The Budget Epicureans Review: Chops Deli

Jeremy Smyczek | Staff Writer

Each week, the Budget Epicureans visit a local restaurant or take-out, searching for quality and value. Bonus points are awarded for healthy eating options.

Downtown Wilmington can leave lunch diners feeling squeezed. Sometimes there seems to be little room between trendy, pricey and touristy affairs on one hand and greasy pub grub on the other. Front Street’s Chops Deli occupies an intermediary niche, where one can find fresh and tasty on the cheap. Co-owners Chris Graham and former UNCW student Brad Corpening have put together a concept that satisfies on a student budget.

While Chops appears to do much of its business via carry out, it’s actually a pretty friendly place to sit down with colorful local art—present selections might be called “retro-‘70s-neo-cubist”—brightening the dining room. Additional contributions, mainly in crayon, adorn the open kitchen courtesy of Graham’s 5-year-old daughter, Emma. It’s funky and fun, and sets the tone for the whole experience.

Chops’ menu features a number of fixed and rotating geographically themed sandwiches—such as the Monaco (lemon pepper chicken breast and basil on three-cheese semolina), Bordeaux (rare roast beef, brie and mushroom gravy on a French baguette) and Tripoli (deli meats, three cheeses, mustard and horseradish on rye). In all instances, the emphasis is on fresh, so the formulas can vary based on what’s available any given day.

Other features are salads and wraps: the tuna salad wrap — featuring spinach, red lettuce and red grapes on a grilled white tortilla — redefines the genre. The warm, crisp tortilla along with the balancing crunch and sweetness of the fruit will make previous experiences with a typical tuna salad wrap disappear from memory forever; it rocks. The meatless version of the chef’s salad features fresh, thin sliced Havarti, Colby, Muenster, Swiss and mozzarella cheeses over an assortment of crisp greens, arugula and a tart raspberry vinaigrette.

Among the soups, the corn chowder was a winner with redskins, ripe, sweet tomatoes and turkey in a savory, buttery white broth — delectable. Among the sides, the three-bean salad with waxed, green and kidney beans in sweet vinegar sauce complemented the main course nicely.

Chops has some wrinkles such as the old-school, cash-and-check only policy that can be annoying, and given the appeal of the place to a surprisingly diverse crowd, the menu could use some additional vegetarian and vegan options. A fresh dessert selection would also be a nice addition, especially if made with the local-food emphasis and attention given to everything else.

What separates Chops from other downtown eateries, though, isn’t the product so much as the love. Almost every item has been carefully reimagined from its usual edition, creating a strange paradox — deli food, which is often thought of as interchangeable, that one can only associate with Chops. Because of the prevalence of lean meats, the absence of a deep-fryer and the ability to tailor any menu order to dietary taste, Chops even gets much coveted Budget Epicureans bonus points for healthy eating options.


Cuisine: deli

Price range: $7-$10

Address: 130 N. Front St. Wilmington, N.C., 28401

Contact: (910) 399-6503 or

Store hours:

Monday – Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.