Thursday, May 29

WILLIAMSTOWN — Nobody calls it Pappa Charlie's Deli. People call it "Pappa C's", or at most "Pappa Charlie's". The deli has been an institution in Williamstown for well over three decades. Located on Spring Street, it shares a building with various Williams College offices, and thus has become part of the college campus in more ways than one. Pappa Charlie's has long been a favorite sandwich stop for visiting celebrities in the Williamstown Theater Festival. A wall of fame adorns the back of the restaurant, with photos of WTF actors. As celebrities visited the deli, their favorite sandwiches became forever enshrined on the big board with their names.

And celebrities keep tabs on their sandwiches. A note on the board explains to diners, "Mary Tyler Moore has informed us she's been a vegetarian for many years," which is why a soy bacon version of the Mary Tyler Moore sandwich (Avocado, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato) is available.

Likewise, another note informs us, "Christopher Reeve always ordered the vegetable lasagna, and wanted it named after himself." At his wife's request after the accident, his name remains attached to the veggie lasagna.

The restaurant has changed hands a number of times since it was founded by the original "Pappa" Charlie Nikitas in 1976. Most recently, it was bought from Voula Nikolakopoulos by husband and wife team Chris and Jennifer Karampatsos, who took over the restaurant in 2006.

"It was an opportunity to be had," says Jennifer. "I majored in restauranting and hospitality, my husband majored in economics, we had no established careers, and she (Voula) was selling."

The Karampatsos family is not unfamiliar with the restaurant business. Chris's father Andreas is the former owner of Dora's Fine Dining in North Adams and the Taconic Restaurant in Williamstown. And some of that expertise is being put to use at Pappa C's.

"We've updated our breakfast menu," explains Jennifer. "Andy (Andreas) comes in in the morning to do breakfast." The pancakes and waffles are a welcome addition to a deli that once only served bagels as a breakfast option.

Aside from breakfast, though, Jennifer is quick to point out that she hasn't changed much. The sandwiches are mostly the same, although obviously famous names must come and go. Neil Patrick Harris frequently came in during the 2007 WTF season, so his regular sandwich — Grilled chicken breast, Dijon mustard, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, and pickles, all on a toasted roll — was added to the board.

Jennifer insists, "It's popular in spite of how it sounds!"

And that, indeed, may be the secret to Pappa Charlie's success. The board is filled with famous names attached to various permutations of meats and condiments. We had a Dr. Strangepork ($5.48), a hot turkey and melted provolone sandwich on rye, with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. And since it is a Greek-owned deli, we also ordered the Nikos ($5.48), which is a simple gyro.

Both sandwiches were somewhat dry, with not enough tzatziki on the Nikos and the turkey insufficiently juicy. From a deli that has been owned by a string of Greek restauranteurs, one really expects a better gyro. Perhaps a known quantity (the delicious hot corned beef and pastrami) would have been a more advisable order. On the bright side, both sandwiches were served with a crisp slice of pickle. All in all, a serviceable lunch.

But people don't just come to Pappa Charlie's for the food. The deli is an institution, bearing the names of three decades of famous people who have dined there before. Most of the old favorites are still up on the board, and for Williamstown expatriates, the old sandwiches that used to be on the board are still available if you know to ask for them. Pappa Charlie's is still the place people go.

At least, when it's open. The basement juice bar offers much more stylish seating than the few wooden benches and tables upstairs, but is often closed off. And although the hours are officially 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., an initial attempt to dine there at 6:30pm on a Tuesday was met with locked doors and a disinterested staffer wiping the counters.

In spite of all that, there is only one Pappa C's, and it continues to be the sandwich shop where Williams students line up after classes to grab lunch. Chris and Jennifer are still getting used to the pace of everything, but say, "We love the location, love the town, and hope to be here for a while."