What Makes a Great Deli Sandwich


At lunch for two days now I’ve been trapped in offices near West and Shaw. The entrapment wasn’t all bad; I was doing something to benefit my clients. But the price of being held in the glare of phosphorescent lighting isn’t necessarily paid for in hourly fees. Rather, as lunch draws near, and no one’s inviting you to Mike’s Pizzeria for a hot calzone, the dreaded knock arrives and a chirpy secretary hands you…a pre-printing deli menu.

Some will say the drama’s not necessary; others will share my dread. Immediately, your mind returns to another city (assume it’s not San Francisco), an anonymous office park, opposing counsel with slightly bad teeth, and another deli menu. The words present a seemingly pleasant set of choices: pastrami and this, turkey-cheese and that, the obligatory salad. All you really remember is a scary lump of meat twisted onto gummy bread and telling yourself: Don’t Eat That. It’s a gut bomb destined to reek havoc on your spindly digestive tract. Later you remember that the menu had been photocopied way too many times, that it was mayonnaise stained and deeply creased. Signs.

When you eat deli you want to see deli. A deli’s a place where meals, not just sandwiches, are made. Subway makes sandwiches. A deli makes lunch, and dinner if you’re inclined. When you enter Sam’s Italian Deli or Piemonte’s, you’re entering a restaurant without servers, where the meats and cheeses are chosen to fit the right combinations, where the ingredients are fresh and ripe or they’re not served, and where the bread, especially bread, is given the respect it deserves. As any deli diner knows, bread makes the sandwich. You could serve good liverwurst on champion bread and please a whole lot of people. But the finest Boar’s Head meats served on a dull loaf is going to be a loser every time. Bread has to have the right tooth, not be too plentiful, and have a softness that gives way to the wisdom of good meat and good dairy.

So what did the chirpy secretary hand us? An unstained, uncreased menu from Deli Delicious, Fresno’s own incarnation of a sandwich franchise, now with nine locations in town.

Day one, I tried the Turkey, Avocado, Sprouts and Swiss Cheese. Day two, I went for the Smoked Turkey and Provolone. Not very adventurous I know. But I’m a creature of habit.

Good news to report. Lumpy and gummy they were not. Both sandwiches were very fresh, very tasty. I asked for both with light mayo, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and both arrived that way. They each had solid helpings of pickles, onions and wax peppers. Both had meat that tasted fresh and vegetables that Sam’s and Piemonte’s wouldn’t be afraid to serve. The bread was good, not great. While it carried the sandwich, it didn’t enhance it.

My only beef with these decidedly decent players was that while they were certainly better than stock-and-trade products, they didn’t rise above being good sandwiches. And maybe that’s alright. Maybe good, fresh meat-and-cheesers are worth aspiring to – especially if you’ve got nine of these babies and you want customers to recognize that they can find the same sandwich on Champlain as they’ll find on West Shaw. There’s value in consistency. And if I was caught in the Subway looking for a Port-o’-Quizno’s, I’d do Deli Delicious every time.

But if I wanted something beyond a merely delicious sandwich, I’d visit Sam’s and Piemonte’s and lose myself in a real meal.