1776, the deli inside Range USA on Whitten Road, easily makes the list of my favorite unexpected treasures. Honestly, who would expect to find homemade soups and chili, homemade salad dressings for the spring mix chef's salad, homemade pimiento cheese -- well, you get where I'm headed -- in a shooting range?
And yet here it is, and even better, there's not a sandwich on the menu priced above $4.50.
All sandwiches are named for founding fathers or have patriotic monikers such as Ol' Glory, The '76er, The Call to Arms and so on.
I first found out about the restaurant in the range about a year and a half ago, when frequent Whining & Dining blogger Randal told me about a barbecue joint that was there. We met for lunch, I made mention of it in a story, he put it on his barbecue map, but before long, it closed. I was itching to go back when I found out that a deli had taken over the spot.
On my first visit, we tried the Pursuit of Happiness, known in other places as a Reuben, The Liberty Bell -- a gussied-up Philly cheese steak -- the chili and chicken noodle soup.
The Pursuit of Happiness delivered. Corned beef (plenty, though not New-York-deli generous), sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and house made Russian dressing were pressed between two thick slices of marble rye bread. It was an excellent sandwich. On a subsequent visit, manager John Davis told me that he's such a fan of a Reuben sandwich that he hosts Reuben parties instead of cookouts at his house.
The Liberty Bell was fine -- and huge -- but the olives and the grilled onions and peppers were a bit much for me. I much preferred the Ol' Glory, roast beef with grilled onions, provolone and cheddar with horseradish, that we tried on the next visit.
The chili has a slightly sweet tinge from the tomatoes, but it's rich, beefy and topped as you like it. Go all the way with cheese, onions and jalapeno peppers, and it's like eating at home. And the cup is $2! On my next visit, I'm going for the chili with The Revolution, a three-cheese panini with mozzarella, cheddar and Swiss.
The chicken noodle soup was chock-full of big pieces of chicken and small egg noodles. I added a little black pepper, but that was all it took. Again, it's $2 for a cup. The bowls are $4.
On the second visit, the special of the day was a smoked gouda and roasted red pepper spread for $4. I do love good pimiento cheese, so I ordered it and the server wanted to know how I wanted it dressed. Plain, on rye bread, I told her, and she seem puzzled. "Nothing else?"
I assured her I wanted it plain, and I was completely happy with it. Later Davis came over to ask about the sandwich. He said he typically adds tomato, lettuce and bacon. And still for $4. Amazing.
But I have a weakness for eggs on bread, and The Minute Man was a worthwhile indulgence: Bacon, eggs, and American cheese between two slices of buttered white bread, grilled until perfectly brown and toasty. Comfort food you can hold in your hand.
I resisted all of the desserts except the brownie, a deep chocolate version that's big enough for two. Some of the desserts are made in-house and some aren't, and the selection changes daily.
Yes, there are men with guns in the restaurant (and surely women, too, though I didn't see any that were visibly armed). Guns are holstered, and these people understand and practice gun safety -- there's nothing to worry about. Still, if guns really freak you out, this probably isn't the place for you. The shooting range is right behind the restaurant and you'll hear gunfire, so don't go if it scares you. But if you're interested, there's a bank of windows along the back wall gives a clear view of the range, so you can watch folks at target practice.