Alibi V.14 No.11 • March 17-23, 2005 

Restaurant Review

Deli Mart West

Not that far, but a world apart

Lenny Cerami slices prosciutto, saying, "Add some fresh mozzerella, a little oregano, some olive oil ... perfect."
Singeli Agnew

Let's face it, the Duke City is challenged in the sandwich department. I used to count on one hand the number of places that I'd go to for a sandwich, but now I'm going to have to use my other hand too, because that list just got longer. I finally ate my first New York deli-style sandwich at Deli Mart West. I had heard about the place from several friends over the years but, because it's "way over on the Westside," I only headed out to find it once, got lost and never went back. Truth be told, it's only 10.09 miles and 17 minutes from my house. That's about how long it takes me to get almost anywhere in the city. Barrio-centricity strikes again.

The place has been tucked away in the Alameda West Shopping Center, a generic strip mall on Coors (a short jog south of Alameda), since 1978. Owner Salvatore R. Cerami wanted to offer New York style deli items in this desert bereft of authentic delis. He and his family are still striving to do just that, and they are succeeding wonderfully. This is still very much a family enterprise, and that's also a very good thing.

The focus here is on food, so décor is not a priority. Food posters and pictures adorn the walls, and Italian meats and cheeses hang from the ceiling over the counter. Well spaced utilitarian tables and chairs dot the black and white checkerboard patterned tile floor in two seating areas. One is a smallish separate dining room and the other an open area at the front of the store. A surprisingly well-stocked international specialty food section takes up most of the space. You'll find lots of Italian goodies—semolina flour, dried porcini mushrooms, polenta—and surprises like phyllo pastry, grape leaves, watermelon pickles and even Cajun crab boil spices. There is also a nice selection of stuffed pastas and other entrées in the freezer section.

The deli counter is well stocked with all manner of meats and 60 kinds of cheese. I couldn't resist one of their famous deluxe subs, layered with ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone and cappicola ham. There are 21 hot and cold sandwiches to choose from, but none of them is served on a squishy white bread excuse for an Italian loaf. This bread is the real deal and comes from the nearby TLC bakery. Go for the amazing sausage, pepper and onion sub with just enough gravy (marinara sauce) to make it sing. The sausage is house-made, and the onions and peppers are fully cooked, a rarity in this town. Boar's Head corned beef and sauerkraut with TLC rye bread distinguish the Reuben sandwich here. Prices are fair too. A meat-filled, eight-inch sub costs between $4 and $5. Most of the 12-inch subs cost around $6 with the "deluxe" topping out at $6.49. Chips and sides are extra.

Several lunch specials ($4.49), including spinach quiche, lasagna, baked ziti and a soup and sandwich combo, are featured on a dry-erase board. I happened to notice that the same specials were listed on each of my visits. "They don't change very often," the manager told me. "So it's easier to put them on the board and erase them when they're 86ed."

I hope you get there early enough to taste the lasagna, because it was one of the best I've had in ages. It wasn't over-stuffed with cheap cheese or covered in vapid sauce. Their version was made with delicious homemade marinara, tender layers of Barilla pasta, and just the right amount of creamy fresh ricotta, mozzarella and Romano cheeses. The wedding soup I tried was very tasty with hand rolled meatballs, orzo (a rice shaped pasta) and spinach in a flavorful chicken stock.

Specials come with a choice of bread or salad. Skip the ordinary iceberg salad unless you have the super-simple housemade Italian dressing on it. Bread will set you back 50 cents for a side order, or do what I did: Buy a loaf ($1.35) and take what's left home for supper.

I didn't have room for dessert on either visit, but I did take a small cannoli to go. The pastry part was crisp and delicious, and although tasty, the filling was too sweet with chocolate chips (I prefer the plain version). On my second visit, I took some cookies to go. The peanut butter cookie with Chimayo red chile ($.95) was an eye opener. The flavor of the chile rose slowly and heated up the peanut butter sweetness ever so slightly. The chocolate chip pecan cookie ($.95) was very good too. I missed the tiramisu; it was on its way from a wholesaler back East.

There is an astounding selection (I counted 50 flavors) of ordinary and not-so-ordinary soft drinks in the cooler here. Remember Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, San Pellegrino Chinotto sour orange soda and Manhattan Special espresso coffee soda? They're all here.

As you've probably noticed, there are at least 70 solid reasons to break out of your barrio-centricity and make the pilgrimage to Deli Mart West. It's not that far, just a world apart.

Deli Mart West; Alameda West Shopping Center; 10131 Coors NW; 898-3233.

Open: M-F 9 a.m to 6 p.m., Sa 9 a.m. to 5p.m., and Su 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Price range: inexpensive; major credit cards and checks accepted