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Blond on Blond
Nielsen's is the Marilyn Monroe of Houston delicatessens -- pale, creamy and voluptuous, talisman of a quaint era in which goddesses had meat on their bones and nobody discussed cholesterol.

Remember when mayo wasn't a four-letter word? Nielsen's does. The secret weapon at this narrow closet at Richmond and Mid Lane is mayonnaise of a particularly snowy and eggy sort, deployed with splendid abandon.

Anyone nostalgic about grandma's picnics or dime-a-dip church suppers will appreciate this old-fashioned, Danish-run place. Their chicken-salad sandwich on wheat bread is a Houston Hall of Famer: nothing more than big hunks of roast chicken and a little celery held together by vast quantities of mayonnaise, it is very plain and very, very good. Same goes for the semi-legendary potato salad, full of irregular chunks of real potato, bits of celery and egg, a suspicion of onion. Plus major mayo, of course.

The ultimate retro indulgence here is a box lunch known as the salad plate; mayonnaise plate is more like it. "It's all white!" exclaimed a friend upon first beholding this collection of ivory dixie cups arrayed on a pale styrofoam plate. Well, yes. Chicken salad, cole slaw, potato salad, pasta salad, each whiter and more insidiously delicious than the last. You have to draw the line somewhere, of course. I draw it at the mayonnaise-laden canned-fruit cocktail that inhabits the fifth dixie cup.

Whereas the salad plate is best consumed by two people in guilty secrecy, Nielsen's special corned-beef-and-Swiss sandwich can be eaten right out in the open; its Scandinavian twist is a layer of pale, house-made liver paste that's more like a light, rough-textured pate. Skip the sweet, bland cheesecake in favor of the frighteningly perfect Danish butter cookies that are sold by the sackful at the cash register. They're blond, naturally. Take them home with you, unless you like the prospect of perching on stools in claustrophobic quarters with nothing but Richmond Avenue and yellowed news clippings about Danish royalty to look at.

-- Alison Cook

Nielsen's Delicatessen, 4500 Richmond, 963-8005.

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