In 1976, a deli opened its doors in downtown Monticello. Forty-five years later, The Brown Bag is still going strong, serving sandwiches, soups and salads to locals and tourists alike.

“I think it was always a given that I would take over at some point,” says Leslie Glickman, who grew up in the deli and took the reins at managing the restaurant last year. She co-owns it with her mother, Harlean Swing, who originally opened it.

“She decided the town needed a deli. It already had fast food, pizza and diners … so she and my stepfather, who was an architect, bought the building,” Leslie says. The rest is history.

Since taking over, Leslie has started much needed renovations to the building. “I wanted to take over the mantle and honor her, the way the restaurant started, and her vision, but I also want to get my vision too.”

The facade has been redone, complete with new lettering on the windows, and the original iron posts have been sanded and repainted. New flooring has been put in throughout as well as updated booths and seating.

“We wanted to go back to what it looked like when the building was built in the 1800s,” Leslie explains. There are many future projects planned, including wheelchair accessible bathrooms.

“I feel like The Brown Bag is an integral part of the town,” Leslie says. “People have had their pregnancy cravings here, gotten engaged here, had bridal showers and baby showers. We’ve been a big part of the town. These buildings are some of the oldest in town, so it is tough. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed. I wanted to honor the historical feel of it.”

While the building may look different, patrons can continue to rely on menu favorites with a multitude of options, all made fresh and homemade from scratch.

“We’re the perfect restaurant for a fussy eater,” Leslie says. “You can come and make whatever you want. You can create your own sandwich, or you can take one of our sandwiches and tweak it.”

Every sandwich is made to order. You can even watch it being made as the kitchen is in the open. “We bake our own turkey, make our own salad dressings, and make our soups and salads from scratch.” Leslie says. “We pride ourselves on that and also that the menu is so vast.”

The Veggie

Leslie says for years the most popular item on the menu was her mom’s signature sandwich, the Veggie, which consists of melted swiss cheese stuffed into a pita pocket with cucumber, tomato, creamy coleslaw, grated Colby-Jack cheese and lettuce.

“For years, it was ‘the thing,’ but the Honey Berry Rollup has surpassed that,” Leslie says. “It’s the thing everybody wants.” This signature dish consists of a flour tortilla spread with cranberry sauce and rolled around sliced honey turkey, crisp bacon, grated Colby-Jack cheese and lettuce.

The hot, homemade soups and fresh salads are made daily. The cheesy broccoli soup and Buzz’s Salad are customer favorites. The salad is made with chopped chicken breast, fresh mixed fruit, parmesan cheese, and toasted pecans on a bed of lettuce and topped with homemade poppyseed dressing.

“My mom named some sandwiches after people who have worked here and people who have consistently ordered something she thought was cool, and put it on the menu. One sandwich that comes to mind is the Mary Greene,” Leslie says.

Mary Greene

This turkey and swiss on a bagel with cream cheese on one side and butter on the other was a favorite of a local woman named Mary Greene who would

eat it on her lunch break. After she passed away in a car accident, the deli commemorated her by naming the sandwich after her and putting it on the regular menu.

The Brown Bag is also known for its daily specials. The deli has so many, Leslie says they could almost do a different special every day and not repeat for a month.

“I’ve noticed people really like Reubens and whenever we do a special with cranberry sauce or a jalapeno berry compote,” Leslie explains. “They love our Yankee pot roast and Brown Bag Philly. Then we have some specials customers come up with.”

A local teacher had a dream about a sandwich and gave it to them. Called the Not So Little Wonder, it was turned into a special. It’s a variation of a French dip with cheddar cheese, French fried onions, crisp bacon and roast beef with au jus on the side for dipping.

The Brown Bag posts daily specials on its website and Facebook page, and you can join the deli’s texting club by scanning the QR code on its website to stay updated.

While there, grab a slice of pie. Desserts, also including cakes, cookies, brownies and more, are baked by Tracy Bodine, owner of Pies by Inge. This bakery, located inside the deli, has called The Brown Bag home since the original owner Inge Parker started the business.

Pies are made from scratch using a secret crust recipe passed from owner to owner. Baked goods can be purchased by the piece at the deli’s counter, but if you want a whole pie, you’ll have to contact the bakery to order.

Like other restaurants across the state, The Brown Bag was forced to makes changes when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For the first time, curbside pickup and delivery were available, and when outdoor dining was allowed, workers had to learn to be servers as the deli has always been a counter service restaurant.

“My mother started this restaurant and put her all into it. I was able to take it over, and I really care. Someday, my kid is going to take it over,” Leslie says. “I have a group of people here who really care and are like family.”

Illinois-BrownBagLet’s EAT!

The Brown Bag
212 W. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856
Dine in, carry out and curbside pickup
Cash and credit accepted

Tuesday-Friday: 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Pies by Inge
Located inside The Brown Bag