Middle Eastern eats
Broadway Market and Deli: Drab convenience-store/sub shop meets tasty Middle Eastern deli
Chico, CA 95928
At the new Broadway Market and Deli in downtown Chico there aren’t any kitschy decorations on the walls that allude to its Middle Eastern menu. The market is sparsely stocked with convenience foods, such as beef jerky, power bars, nuts, candy bars and cereals. A large cooler has a variety of bottled drinks, the kind that are available at gas station markets.
Along one wall is the deli counter, and above is a large menu of mostly American sandwich fare. But the bland atmosphere and generic goods are only half of the story. The biggest draw to this new deli will be its slim offerings of Middle Eastern food, which along with its hookah tobacco and Turkish coffee, provide a little taste of real Middle Eastern culture.
Completely ignoring the standard sub sandwiches on the American menu, I ordered a chicken shawarma ($5.99). Chunks of chicken were sliced from a giant slab rotating on a rotisserie topped with a tomato that was slowly dripping into the meat. My shawarma was wrapped in a hand-made pita with homemade hummus, spiced yogurt, potato, marinated onions and fresh tomato. A friend of mine ordered a falafel and hummus sub ($5.99) that also was served in a pita wrap. After picking out a drink from the cooler, we sat in one of the two wobbly tables inside the deli and ate.
Shawarma is a messy thing, but with the yogurt running down my hands, I gobbled it up. The chicken was wonderfully seasoned. My lunch mate noted with pleasure that her falafel was lightly moist and not fried to a crunchy texture. We both enjoyed the freshness of the pita bread.
The authenticity of the Middle Eastern food can’t be questioned, but it’s not better, larger or cheaper than similar offerings at the two other restaurants located on the next block: Sultan’s Bistro or Pita Pit. However, those restaurants don’t have a hookah menu.
The deli is offering an introductory special on hookah and Turkish coffee for two at $9.99 (the original price was $15). We were shown to the back patio, a nice quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of downtown traffic. The selection of tobacco flavors was huge, but when we selected the chocolate, the server suggested that we try the Two Apple, which is the staff favorite.
A few minutes later he arrived with a beautiful, towering hookah with ice water in its bowl, stuffed with Egyptian tobacco and brand new tips to put on the hose. Feeling very adventuresome we sucked deeply and immediately were hit with a pleasant sweet apple taste.
“It tastes like a Jolly Rancher,” my friend said approvingly. She looked very relaxed, kicking back with the hookah tip in her smiling mouth, like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
Soon, the server brought two small cups and saucers on an elegant serving platter with the strong and sweet Turkish coffee. We sipped, delicately holding the ornate cups and noting how the coffee was full-flavored and very satisfying after a mid-afternoon lunch and smoke.
As we were enjoying the patio atmosphere we were joined by a regular at the deli who arrived a year ago from Saudi Arabia. He said he greatly appreciates the proximity of the deli to the university, which allows him the chance to have a leisurely smoke in between courses. He talked to us about the quality of the Egyptian tobacco as he puffed away. The porch soon had a sweet apple aroma as our conversation moved to politics and culture. It felt very sophisticated and worldly and added to the overall effect of our visit.
The starkness of the interior of the deli is deceiving. The real atmosphere is at the outside tables, where the deli’s true calling is realized. The ethnic flavors and stimulating tastes and smells give some cultural insight into the mysterious Middle East.