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The Village Cheese House in Palo Alto is a venerable sandwich shop that is still drawing crowds of sandwich lovers. Photo: Melinda Sacks

The Village Cheese House in the revitalized Town & Country Village in Palo Alto is, in many ways, a city landmark, a 50-year-old sandwich shop that has withstood the ups and downs of the local economy, the daily onslaught of Paly High students and the comings and goings of other tenants of the now destination upscale center.

I remember my parents dragging me to the Cheese House when I wanted to hide in the car as a teenager, but the then triple-layered sandwiches always made up for the embarrassment of being seen with mom and dad.

Today, the Cheese House has reinvented itself to accommodate vegetarians, gluten-free diets (check out the lettuce wrap) and a customized sandwich menu that includes the memorable secret sandwich sauce (aka "original spread"), as well as horseradish sauce, hummus, pesto and even cranberry spread, to mention a few of the choices.

If you haven't been to Town & Country Village, it helps to know that the Cheese House is all the way in the back, next door to Sushi House and across the parking lot from Trader Joe's. The sign isn't visible from the lot, but you can ask anyone, and they will point you in the right direction.

If you don't want to wait in line, come before or after lunch hour. Even though there is a double line and the sandwich makers work as fast as possible, this place draws a crowd. You can solve the problem by ordering ahead online and picking up your order at a separate window, or taking one of the "Grab and Go" sandwiches that are prepared in advance and packed into little brown boxes for a bargain $3.99.


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When you walk in the door of the one-room deli, you'll pick up a little clip board with an order form. Choose from 11 bread choices (including a whole wheat roll and light and dark rye) for step one; a spread from step two; meat (from German sausage, to liverwurst, turkey pastrami and prosciutto) for step three; and step four for cheese -- ranging from Havarti to smoked Gouda and even Brie (add $1.50).

A sandwich with three toppings will run you $7.49, and a whopping seven toppings are $7.98. (For an extra 49 cents why not, right?) User hungry? Add an extra slice of bread for another 49 cents. These sandwiches are substantial, so consider sharing, or do as I did and bring home half for dinner.

The Cheese House is well known (and loved) by meat eaters for its high-quality roast beef (real, moist), smoked turkey, Toscano salami and Black Forest ham, not to mention the "original spread" that has for years kept customers guessing as to its ingredients. Some compare it to a Tartar sauce, but better.

My favorite is a packed veggie sandwich layered with bright avocado, sliced tomatoes, sharp cheddar, mild peppers and organic greens. Consider, too, the specials that are scrawled on the board over the ordering counter. They might include smoked tofu, meatballs in marinara and other surprises for the same price as the standbys.

Sides are spooned into a plastic deli container and come in small ($1.49), half pint ($2.99), pint ($5.49) and quart ($10.99). While they are prepared fresh each day and are perfectly fine, I found them unremarkable, and unnecessary, considering the sandwich size.

Cheese House breads are freshly baked and better than most deli bread. The sliced whole wheat has a nutty flavor and a nice brown crust. Rye, often left off sandwich shop menus, comes in light or dark. The Dutch crunch and Ciabatta rolls are a meal in themselves. Egg bread is the ultimate comfort carb.

The Cheese House has three four-person butcher block tables inside, and access to a roomy patio.

Village Cheese House

855 El Camino Real,
No. 147, Town & Country
Village, Palo Alto
650-326-9251

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Types of food: Old fashioned sandwiches.
Average meal price: Under $10.
Good choices: Specials, roast beef, design-your-own Veggie.
Not recommended: Salads are a bit bland.
Attitude: Super casual neighborhood.
Amenities: Free parking (but can be crowded), customize your order so you get exactly what you want.
Vegetarian option: Design your own so no problem.
Drinks: soda, sparkling water, juice.
Eat in car: Depends how much sauce and avocado you had them put on your sandwich.
Next-day edibility: You'll lose some of the crunch, and lettuce may wilt.
Who goes there: Seemingly everyone.
Credit cards: Yes.
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.