The Adobe Deli squats at the base of the Florida Mountains foothills less than an hour’s drive west of Las Cruces, stubbornly and proudly clinging to its history. This combination steakhouse, bar, and grill anchors a compound of low-slung buildings reminiscent of a well-worn cowboy movie set.
The former Lewis Flats School (built in 1936 and named for an area ranching family) once served a few dozen elementary school students from ranches and farms in rural Luna County east of Deming, and now serves fine food and libations to locals and adventurous patrons drawn to this anachronistic venue well off the beaten path. Why do people seek out this funky watering-hole-cum-restaurant said to house not only a treasure trove of Western and Native American artifacts and eclectic curiosities, but also feisty spirits that haunt the former schoolhouse?
“The food, number one,” says owner Van Jacobsen, “and the ambiance. And, if you’re a hunter of the supernatural, it apparently is the place to be.”
The historic schoolhouse has not only attracted ghost hunters from Southwest Paranormal Investigations, who spent a night there a few years ago, and El Paso’s Paranormal Research Investigations (PRI), who investigated this location in 2017, but also a crew from the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, which filmed an episode that aired in 2018. “Ghost busters,” who use sophisticated sound and video recording equipment, have picked up disembodied voices and facial images, floating light orbs, and unexplained electromagnetic energy pulses believed to be connected to Old West relics scattered throughout the building.
Van relates a story about paranormal investigators who detected energy pulses emanating from the dance floor in a meeting hall on the grounds where locals gathered in 1981 to celebrate Deming’s centennial.
“One guy just dropped dead,” Van says. “His wife told me he had been having the best time of his life at the dance, but then he just passed away. Apparently, he’s still dancing.”
The Adobe Deli proprietor doesn’t put much stock in all the paranormal sightings and strange noises reported by diners and scared restaurant staff — who sometimes call him at his home just across the dusty parking lot at closing time to ask him to come over because of ghostly apparitions and loud noises. But Van says something odd did happen one day about five months ago when he went to the restaurant about 4 a.m. to grind and brew some of his special imported Columbian coffee.
“I spilled some coffee and threw a rag down to wipe it up,” he recalls. “When I bent over to pick it up, my name, ‘Van,’ appeared on the rag as well as some lettering below that’s hard to make out. It looked like ‘die.’”
HISTORY, MEMORABLE FOOD, AND AN EXOTIC AMBIANCE
Van, an eccentric 68-year-old restaurateur, had learned from his relatives who lived nearby that the former schoolhouse, located where Apaches once roamed, was up for auction. He and his wife, Vicki, bought the property, sold their Long Island downtown delicatessen, and opened the Adobe Deli in 1978.
The rambling building houses a fully stocked bar and upscale dining room in a rustic, mountain-tavern setting. From the moment patrons enter the Adobe Deli, walking across a floor adorned with hundreds of shiny pennies, they find themselves surrounded by what could be a museum. Stuffed exotic game and other critters, including a two-headed calf, stare down from the wall. In front of a giant TV screen, a massive stuffed alligator inhabits a glass case. Dozens of whimsical signs, highway signs, ball caps, hard hats, a sombrero, dollar bills that flutter on the walls and ceiling, and vintage relics galore vie for diners’ attention.
Van takes personal pride in the quality of food and drink served in a down-home setting. Some entrees sport big-city prices, but you definitely get what you pay for at the Adobe Deli. Diners can choose from an extensive lunch menu from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. when hungry travelers can wrap their mouths around superb New York-style deli sandwiches stuffed with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses cradled in homemade bread. Diners rave about the restaurant’s popular French onion soup served in a traditional crock brimming with melted cheese atop the savory onion broth.
It’s the real deal
That’s what Tim and Althea Moss, who were on their way from Tucson to Albuquerque with their grandson, ordered to complement their burger and barbecue lunch on the day I visited. This wasn’t their first visit to the Adobe Deli, as it had been recommended by their daughter who used to live in Silver City. Nor was it my maiden voyage, either. The funky Adobe Deli has a way of drawing you back.
After a brief tour of the rooms in the bowels of the building, including the wine cellar/humidor (yes, they sell cigars), a meeting room, and a former classroom with shelves still lined with textbooks, I returned to the dining room to try to wrap my jaws around a Rueben sandwich piled high with corned beef on rye. At waiter José’s suggestion, I opted for a side of creamy, slightly sweet potato salad over the popular giant onion rings. It proved a savvy recommendation.
Area ranchers and discerning travelers traversing Interstate 10 (only nine miles to the north) come for some of the best steaks to be found in New Mexico, expertly prepared to order by head chef Reynaldo Granillo. The AAA-graded, grain-fed rib eye steaks, T-bones, filet mignons, and other cuts from Sterling Silver Premium Meats are aged for three weeks. The results are consistently tender and flavorful steaks, like those found in the nation’s finest steakhouses.
The high-end dinner menu also offers a variety of seafood, including Alaskan king crab and lobster tail, as well as osso bucco, beef kabobs, pork ribs, and chicken cordon bleu. Expect to spend about $30 or a bit more for the top-end entrees that are worth every penny.
To accompany your meal, choose from the restaurant’s ample wine list that includes wines from California as well as Deming area wineries D. H. Lescombes and Luna Rossa. The bartenders mix a mean margarita and stock more than 200 different whiskeys and bourbons, 400 tequilas, and one of the largest selections of scotch in America. The Jacobsens also carry their own signature tequila — derived from a single batch of barrel-aged Casa Noble. If you feel like splurging, you can take home your own bottle.
And, of course, you can always belly up to the copper-top bar in the saloon for a bottled beer or a brew on tap. As one sign notes: “Beer: So much more than a breakfast drink.” Just don’t be too surprised if you have to share your suds with a thirsty ghost.
The Adobe Deli is located at 3970 Lewis Flats Road just off New Mexico Hwy. 549 West, roughly 10 miles east of Deming. Coming from Las Cruces, take exit 102 at the Akela Flats Trading Post. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call 575-546-0361 or visit adobedeli.com.
Written and photography by Rob McCorkle.
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.