Pleasing discovery

Henri gets lost, but finds a hidden treasure of a deli

BE PATIENT<br>Roxanne Robertson handles a long line of customers waiting to pay their bills during Spiteri’s standard lunch rush. Calling ahead with your order is a wise time-saving step.

Roxanne Robertson handles a long line of customers waiting to pay their bills during Spiteri’s standard lunch rush. Calling ahead with your order is a wise time-saving step.

Photo By Mark Lore

Spiteri’s Delicatessen:
971 East Avenue, (behind All the Best Video). Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Phone: 891-4797. Fax: 891-1030

Just as Henri was beginning to think that he knew his way around Chico, he got lost again. So traumatisant! I’d driven all the way to Tinseltown, without incident, to see a matinee presentation of The Da Vinci Code—Henri has been Paul Bettany’s No. 1 fan ever since his divine turn as Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale—but on the way home, I completely lost my way. All of a sudden I was in a huge, nearly empty parking lot with no idea whatsoever where I was or how to get out.

I took a breath and tried to get my bearings. Ah, a sign of civilization after all: a muffler shop. One can never own too many mufflers. I was also intrigued by the sign that said “20-minute Service.” Henri hasn’t been serviced in, well, a very long time. I headed over to see what they had in cashmere, or anything by Burberry.

Well! Excusez moi, Mssr. Car-fixer Man! How was I supposed to know?

And for the record, Henri does not appreciate being laughed at.

I tried to figure out what to do. Mon père once told me that if I ever got lost, all I had to do was follow running water downstream and I’d eventually get to civilization.

There was no water in the parking lot, running or not.

In the distance, I saw salvation: an All the Best Video. I drove over, managed to push the door open, and dragged myself in. The nice woman evidently could see my plight and immediately suggested I sit down. Then she offered me a glass of water and put a cool damp towel across my forehead.

“Are you OK?” she asked, looking down at me and slowly coming into focus.

I rubbed my eyes.

“You should eat something.”

I nodded and reached for a large box of licorice whips.

She grabbed my wrist and shook her head, then tilted the water glass back to my mouth. “There’s a sandwich shop across the way,” she said. “Do you want me to get you something?”

I was feeling better already. I sat up and shook my head. She walked me to the door, pointed across the parking lot to a small deli, then gave me a map with instructions on how to get back to downtown Chico.

Spiteri’s Delicatessen is a classic little sandwich shop with a large and loyal following despite its off-the-beaten-track location in a rather dilapidated strip mall. Inside, it’s anything but pretentious; the walls decorated almost exclusively with beer signs—and its many News & Review “Best of Chico” awards. There are eight small tables and as many booths, and shelves offering jars of olives and mustard for sale. Four picnic tables are scattered outside on the patio, landscaped with potted roses and shaded with trellised wisteria.

That first day I tried the perfect gauge of a good sandwich shop, a Reuben, which I had on dark rye with Dijon mustard. It was excellent and heaped with pastrami, restoring my strength for the drive home.

Several days later—armed with my map—I ventured back out. This time I had the smoked turkey on sliced sourdough with pepper jack. Also excellent. No wonder the line is frequently nearly out the door at lunch time.

In addition to the classic sandwiches ($5.25), Spiteri’s offers a wide range of bean, pasta, vegetable and fruit salads, as well as ravioli and lasagna ($2.95 for a small, $4.75 for a large). You can get sides of artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms and several types of olives.

Spiteri’s also caters, offering sandwiches, relish and salami-and-cheese trays, and main dishes such as barbecued tri-tip, ribs, turkey and gravy, ravioli and lasagna, along with assorted side dishes, and dessert.

To avoid waiting in line, especially during the busy lunch hour, you can fax or telephone your order in ahead of time. Allow about 20 minutes.