Few places spark as much controversy and serve as delicious a sandwich as the Yellow Deli. The religious group that started this string of delis and markets around the nation (and the globe) began in our very own Chattanooga in the 1970s. They began connected to Christianity, but when churches started canceling their Sunday night services and Bible studies to watch the Super Bowl, this group broke off and formed their own more devoted religion, the Twelve Tribes. Think of it as a commune that’s a mixture of the Old Testament and hippie love and drug culture. And man, is their food good.
I remember my first trip to the Deli as a wee freshman. It was a 1 a.m. trip that involved warm, earthy chili, jalapeño cornbread, and steaming mate with honey. The servers seemed to instinctively know when the mug was empty and would refill it without having to be asked. As all Yellow Deli newbies are, I was in awe of the unique atmosphere comprised of hand-carved furniture, hippie murals, and mystic music that plays on repeat. It feels as though you are entering another world, right in the midst of the busy city.
Chili and mate are just the start to the good, homey food. The Deli Pesto is my go-to sandwich, warm and filled with turkey, melted cheese, sprouts, and creamy pesto, all on a house-made bun. The Deli Rose is also a winner by balancing roast beef and cheese in a sweet sauce with a bit of spicy pepper jack cheese. If, for some odd reason, you’re not convinced by the description of those sandwiches alone, you can create your own, go for their soups, or choose homemade granola topped with fresh bananas, blueberries, and strawberries.
Since they grow and make a lot of their own food on their commune, the restaurant serves mainly organic fresh food made from scratch. If you’re not that hungry, they have a Green Drink that is filled with all kinds of healthy rabbit foods and will make you feel like a kale-eating millennial.
One of the other distinctive elements of the Yellow Deli is that it is open 24/5, making it ideal for students. They are closed for their religious practices Friday afternoon through Sunday at noon, but other than that they are always open. With the restaurant’s growing popularity, they have expanded seating both indoors and outdoors during the nicer months. With a cozy, welcoming environment and reasonably priced food, the Deli is perfect for late night studying during finals or before a Dr. Vos exam.
The Deli has long been a favorite spot for Covenant students, but has also been the source of much disagreement about whether it should be frequented, since it is run by a repressive, cult-esque group. The delis and markets are their main source of spreading their religion, as seen even in their choice to locate the restaurant right in the heart of the UTC campus. If you ask the servers questions about their religion, they will invite you to their religious gatherings, but other than that, they will not shove their faith down your throat. While some students won’t go to the Deli, the love of food and the temptation to people watch is too strong for this Sociology major, so I am there frequently long into the hours of the night, pretending to be productive.
If you want excellent, quality food, I recommend the Deli. I do not, however, recommend reading a textbook entitled “Questioning Gender” in the restaurant unless you want to get into an intense conversation with the waiters and feel shamed and “of the world” in the end. You haven’t been to Chattanooga until you’ve been to this spot, so check it out this week. The Yellow Deli is striving to achieve harmony and world peace, one Deli Pesto at a time.