Eats & Greets: Peli Deli Now Open Downtown in the Esperson Building

Peli Deli, the quick-service venture of the Peli Peli Restaurant Group, opened their full menu and regular business hours to the public on March 27. As previously reported by Houston Food Finder, Peli Deli is located in downtown Houston in the Esperson Building at 808 Travis, and the new space occupies the former street-level Murphy’s Deli space at the top of the escalator to the tunnel system. It’s a new venture from the owners of South African restaurants Peli Peli and Peli Peli Kitchen. As described by the company, the fare “highlights the diverse flavors of South Africa, which have been influenced by the Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Indian.”

Peli Peli entrance near the top of the escalator in the Esperson Building. Artwork by Jon Garner. Photo by Scott Sandlin.

Those familiar with Peli Peli Kitchen (also known as PPK for short) will recognize some of the menu descriptions and components. Nguyen described the Peli Deli creations as being very similar to PPK, but simplified even more into recognizable variants of traditional street fare. Hefty tacos are presented on naan flatbread, bánh mì is made on a panini press (the innovative sandwich is named the Banh-Nini) and perogens, a traditional South African pastry wrap served much like empanadas.

Breakfast choices include three different egg soufflés, Melktart Custard and Greek yogurt parfaits topped with mixed berries or tropical fruit. Each is $4. The Carni-boers Soufflé is a fluffy mound of fresh eggs, bacon, Boerewors sausage and mozzarella on top of a bed of arugula and micro-greens and topped with Madagascar peppercorn sauce. Naan Breakfast Tacos are filled with scrambled eggs and skirt steak or pork belly for $5 each, or scrambled eggs and cheese for $4.

A pair of”Carni-Boers” egg soufflés with Madagascar peppercorn sauce. Photo by Scott Sandlin.

The lunchtime Naan Tacos filling options include Peli Peli Kitchen’s popular curried chicken, Huguenot pork belly, curried veggie, and skirt steak, all $5. The Bobotie Perogen, filled with a savory-sweet beef mixture and carrot bredie, topped with mango chutney was particularly good, and all perogens are a value at just $4 each.

The Peli Pretzel Dog, $6. Photo by Scott Sandlin.

The Peli Pretzel Dog features traditional South African boerewors sausage, a trio of sautéed peppers, housemade mayonnaise, spicy ketchup, Peli mustard and cilantro, all served on a warm pretzel bun ($6). The hearty Oxtail Soup ($5.50), loaded with generous chunks of tender oxtail meat, would make a perfect accompaniment to the Pretzel Dog. If a salad is preferred, there are three on the menu, including marinated beet salad with citrus thyme dressing, red and gold beets, Peppadews, goat cheese and cracked black pepper. There are Sticky Toffee cookies for dessert (inspired by chef Paul Friedman’s popular sticky toffee dessert options at Peli Peli and PPK) for $3.  The chewy cookies are made with cranberries and dates, and topped with a drizzle of sticky toffee sauce and white chocolate shavings.

Peli Peli partner Thomas Nguyen provided an overview of the interior space, decorated for the most part by the Peli Peli team themselves with assistance from artist Jon Garner. Repurposed café tables were given some new tops cleverly decorated with colorful wood and resin inlays in the shapes of the Peli Peli logo and the Esperson Building silhouette. Then, the whole table was then topped with a new acrylic finish. Walls were decorated with historical building images, randomly splashed with various colors of paint. Original Esperson Building door hardware pieces are on the wall as decoration, honoring the historical significance of this downtown Houston landmark. In a special arrangement with the building management, Peli Deli will occupy this space on a nine-month trial basis, and if it goes well, they may sign on for a longer term lease.

Interior artwork featuring Peli Deli staff and historical Esperson Building “artifacts”. Photo by Scott Sandlin.

The Peli Deli concept is an easy way for those unfamiliar with South African-influenced cuisine to become acquainted, but with fewer choices to reduce the chance of a first-time patron being overwhelmed. It offers unique and creative flavor combinations that should be well within the comfort zone of their downtown clientele. The flavors are not extravagant, nor highly spiced. Peli Deli will, in fact, be an easy add to many downtown workers breakfast or lunch rotation.

Peli Deli, 808 Travis, Houston, TX 77002, Facebook page. Open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.


About The Author: Smoked meat enthusiast and regular barbecue competition judge Scott Sandlin authors the Texas Pit Quest blog, maintains the Guide to Houston-Area BBQ map, and is the barbecue (and general meat) columnist for Houston Food Finder.

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