Hidden Spiteri’s Deli worth seeking out
Spiteri’s Delicatessen971 East Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
I’m a self-professed sandwich maniac, so when I heard about the authentic delicatessen hiding somewhere out on East Avenue, I had to get out there.
I had a little trouble finding the place when I went for lunch on a recent windy morning, but hidden at the far end of what looks like a back lot, in an old strip mall behind everything else on the corner of East and Cohasset, is Spiteri’s Deli. Open since 1978, the deli has moved around a few times, having settled into its current out-of-the-way nook about 25 years ago.
I made my way across the gravel patches and potholes in the massive lot, stepped inside and was immediately greeted by the distinct smells of spiced Italian meats and freshly sliced cheeses. Everything you’d expect from an old-fashioned delicatessen was offered—a wide array of meats, cheeses and bread rolls, as well as an impressive selection of sides such as tortellini pasta salad, feta orzo salad and ravioli. Classic lunch meats—turkey, ham, roast beef—were offered, along with Italian cuts such as salami, mortadella and capicola (coppa). Less-common meats and cheeses included corned beef, liverwurst and smoked gouda.
The line was open when I arrived, so when the nice young man behind the counter asked me for my order, I spontaneously chose one of the specials—a “full” garlic rosemary turkey sandwich with my choices of Dutch crunch bread, muenster cheese and the works (sans the mayo) for $5.95.
There was plenty of seating, and my lunch date and I chose a booth by the window—a modestly sized table fit for two or four people, with an old-fashioned white-and-red tablecloth and rustic wooden benches.
The Italian-style deli’s décor features an impressive collection of antique-looking mirrored beer signs. Most of them featured Mexican beers, and the four-door cooler was stocked with six packs and single bottles of more than 20 types of beer—most of them from Mexico (and, of course, an adequate selection of Sierra Nevada). Spiteri’s also has a variety of bottled juices and sodas, as well as a soda-fountain machine and a few Sierra Nevada choices on tap.
I sunk my teeth into the first half of my sandwich and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Dutch crunch bread—a type of roll that’s been increasingly difficult for me to find—was perfectly soft, white and fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The fresh bread paired well with the pile of rosemary-seasoned turkey meat and muenster cheese. I was glad I skipped the mayo, because the combination of tomatoes, pickles and moist turkey kept the sandwich from being dry.
My lunch date, who was introduced to the deli earlier this year by a seasoned Chicoan, built her own turkey sandwich with Dutch crunch bread, pepper-jack cheese and the works. Her sandwich was “delicious,” she said.
My second visit to the deli a week later was near the end of the lunch rush, and inside it felt like the calm after the storm. Quiet music played while several young men worked diligently behind the counter to wrap up the last rush of orders.
This time, I built my own multigrain wrap with smoked turkey, gouda cheese and the works for $5.50. I also got a side of creamy potato soup and feta orzo salad ($4.50 and $2.50, respectively). The sandwich was yummy, but the wrap tasted like a plain wheat tortilla, and the smoked turkey wasn’t as flavorful as the rosemary-seasoned variety. The soup was good, but it was slightly runnier than I had expected for a “creamy” soup.
The feta orzo salad was richly flavored and filled with chunks of sun-dried tomato, but tasted like it had sat in the refrigerator for a little too long.
Minor hiccups aside, at the end of both my visits, I left feeling like I had treated myself to a “real” deli experience. Chain sandwich spots might offer bargain $5 foot-longs, but getting a sandwich from an actual deli put me back only another buck. And judged on quality and heartiness, Spiteri’s is the real fresh choice and worth seeking out.