Thursday, June 10, 2010

Simple. Fresh. Good: In Praise of OC's Best Delicatessens.



There's something unbeatable about sinking your teeth into a sandwich from an authentic deli: Piled high with pastrami or layered with avocado, peppers and cheese, there's nothing better than a fresh sammy from someplace where they've never heard of chipotle aioli. You know, the hole-in-the-wall joints where the lighting is dim except for in the glass cases, where fluorescent bulbs shine like heaven on a display of meats, cheeses and salads.

Your lunch will probably be made by a kind-eyed gentleman who learned how to cook from his father, who learned it from his father, who came here directly from Europe, most likely. Simple. Fresh. Good.
Despite the explosion of fast-casual chain lunch restaurants, the humble deli still thrives in Orange County, tucked into shopping centers and on old-town main streets. Here's a north-to-south tour of a few of the best:

Zlaket's Market
12921 Main Street, Garden Grove
(714) 534-2188
This place has been open since 1927 (!) and is known for its high-quality meats and for having the largest selection of classic sodas in OC. If you're having a BBQ, stop by for the main ingredients and peruse the selection. Lunch-goers can pick up a sandwich made to order, which comes wrapped up with a pickle on the side, and eat at one of the sidewalk tables in Garden Grove's charming old town. 

Angelo's Italian Deli
133 Main Street, Seal Beach
(562) 431-1113

The deli case here is stocked not only with meats and cheeses but also the most delicious pasta salad...ever. The garlicky pesto concoction has twirly pasta, little cubes of hard cheese, tomatoes, and carrots in it. It's a great spot to grab a sandwich or pasta dish and walk down to the gorgeous beach and pier.

I stopped by Angelo's last weekend to get a large container of the pasta salad and a good-looking young couple was ordering one mini cannoli out of the cold case. “You don't share,” instructed the man behind the counter, whom I imagine was Angelo or one of Angelo's descendants. “Oh yes, we're just sharing one!” they giggled. They should have listened to the man, and ordered at least half a dozen out of respect. 

Hollingshead's Delicatessen
368 S. Main St, Orange
(714) 978-9467

The deli for beer lovers, Hollingshead's has a rotating selection of craft beers, from sips by local Stone Brewing Co. to Germany's Brauerie Weltenberg, one of the oldest monastery breweries in the world. Their extensive sandwich menu features home-cooked roast beef and an array of cheeses from bleu to smoked gouda. At Hollingshead's Deli, enjoying a divine beer (Get it? Because it was brewed by monks!) with your sandwich at lunch is perfectly acceptable.

Kosher Bite Deli & Meat Market
23595 Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills
(949) 770-1818

Here the sandwiches are served on paper plates, the furniture is of the patio variety, and they're closed on the Sabbath, so you know the food is going to be good. One of the only true Jewish delis to be found in the area, Kosher Bite is the place to go for pastrami sandwiches, bagels with lox, and knishes. (If you've never had a knish, it's a supreme little dough-ball stuffed with seasoned potatoes, cheese or meat.) And of course, there's matzo ball soup. Yelp reviewer Jim T. wrote of the soup, “It was so geshmak it was enough to drive you Mashugana!” I don't know Yiddish, but I'm pretty sure that is a rave review. 

Tutor and Spunky's Deli
34085 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 116, Dana Point
(949) 248-9008
 [Magic with Tudor & Spunky's owner Tom Blake at right. If it's good enough for Magic... I'm just saying.]
This deli was founded 20 years ago by Tom Blake, an author and columnist for the Orange County Register, which explains why the book “Finding Love After 50” is stacked for sale next to the plastic forks and knives. This shop boasts a ton of personality and a constant stream of customers who crowd in on the weekends for their scrumptious SoCal-themed sandwiches. Examples? “The Doheny Beach,” “Chill-out Dude,” “San Juan Cap,” and “The LA Lakers.”

My fave is the “Cheat a Little,” with all the veggies and avocado plus cheese (and extra peppers). One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is to get a sandwich here and find a bench nearby to stare at the beautiful boats and sparkling ocean. Thank goodness for Orange County, the Pacific Ocean and of course, the Earl of Sandwich. 

-Alex
On my iTunes: Aretha Franklin- “Respect”

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