I ate lunch at N.J. deli supposedly worth $100 million. Here’s my 2 cents. – NJ.com

Hometown Deli in Paulsboro caused shock waves on Wall Street when it was revealed its parent company, Hometown International (the deli is its only asset), was worth $100 million-plus.

Actually, that valuation is closer to an astronomical $2 billion, but that’s another story.

The big question on the minds of food-crazed New Jerseyans is not what “fully diluted equity value” really means but “how the heck is the food?”

I hopped in my car to find out.

First of all, appearances. The $100 million (or $2 billion) deli looks like it was furnished at Family Dollar. “Spare” doesn’t do it justice: six red-checked tables (a vase of fake flowers at each), tile floor, two large wooden barrels inside the entrance, a gum ball machine by the register and a vintage-looking Coke machine in one corner.

The menu is written in chalk on a blackboard, covering all the deli basics — burgers, fries, BLTs, cheesesteaks, chicken parm, hoagies (not subs; this is South Jersey, after all), meatball sandwiches and more.

TV crews descended on the deli when the initial story broke, but there were just two other customers when I stopped in Wednesday afternoon. I was the only one there when I left with my takeout order about a half hour later.

I ate lunch at that $100 million deli.

Hometown Deli, Paulsboro

“Has it been busier than usual because of all the stories?” I asked the woman behind the counter.

“Yeah,” she replied, with apparently all she was offering on the subject (she was perfectly nice taking and ringing up my order; as on all my food missions, I did not identify myself).

Hometown Deli is located steps from the Paulsboro Wrestling Club on a largely residential street. Hometown International’s CEO is Paul Morina, principal of Paulsboro High School and the high school’s head wrestling coach; Paulsboro is a wrestling hotbed. One irony surrounding the town’s $100 million deli: Paulsboro has the lowest median household income (about $45,000) in Gloucester County.

I ordered a range of deli standards. A hedge fund manager, in a letter to clients, said “the pastrami must be amazing” for the deli to be valued so high, but there’s no pastrami on the menu. Always hedge a hedge fund manager’s advice, especially when it comes to food.

First up, the Wiz fries ($4.95), which are basically disco fries minus the gravy. The fries were soft and soggy and the wiz (processed cheese sauce) was, well, wiz. The wiz needs work.

I ate lunch at that $100 million deli.

Sicilian hoagie, Hometown Deli

The Sicilian hoagie ($8.95 half, $16.65 whole) fared better. Prosciutto, sopressata, ham, capicola and sharp provolone, crisp lettuce and fresh-enough tomatoes made for a quality sub, I mean hoagie.

Roast beef is my favorite type of hoagie/sub, and I silently sobbed when informed they had run out of roast beef. Tears flowed when informed they had also run out of sausage (the Philly-style sausage sandwich “loaded with peppers and onions” was the first thing I spotted on the menu).

How do you run out of roast beef and sausage at lunchtime? That hedge fund manager should address this critical topic in his next client letter.

I ate lunch at that $100 million deli.

Cheesesteak, Hometown Deli, Paulsboro

Fortunately, the cheesesteak came to the rescue. You can’t drive more than a mile in South Jersey without running into a place bragging about its cheesesteaks. Hometown Deli’s version ($7.75 half, $15.25 whole) managed to overcome a soggy roll (you’d think a $100 million deli could afford sturdier rolls), with good-quality meat. Would it have made my recent list of N.J.’s 24 best cheesesteaks, ranked? No, but it wouldn’t be that far out of it. Replace that roll, and we’ll talk.

The grilled cheese ($4.25) would definitely not have made my best grilled cheese list. The cheese was a wan white American (I didn’t expect Gruyere, but still). Still grieving over the absence of that Philly-style Italian sausage and peppers, I went with The Pub Style Homemade Porkette, with slices of gravy-covered pork in a hefty burger-type roll. “Porkette” is a cute name, but this big sandwich was a big fail; I can get this at my local diner. And where was the pickle spear promised on the menu? Not a big deal, since I still have about 30 containers of pickles from my recent pickle adventure.

That Sicilian sub turned out to be dinner later, and the Porkette ended up where bad sandwiches meet their predictable end. Would I give the $100 million (or $2 billion) deli another try? Sure, but they better have that sausage sandwich.

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Peter Genovese may be reached at [email protected].

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I ate lunch at N.J. deli supposedly worth $100 million. Here’s my 2 cents. – NJ.com

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