Your gondola awaits
At Bustolini’s Deli, la vita è bella
I’ve always thought that Chico is the place for a deli. And for some time that deli has been Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House. But with a swap of ownership just over a year ago, I assumed that its best days were behind it. Well, we all know what happens when we assume.
The deli’s new owner and operator, Bob Backstrom, is taking Bustolini’s to the next level. And he’s doing it in many respects: food, art, catering services and vibe.
Backstrom decided to ramble after graduating from Chico State with an English degree and working as a fish packer in Alaska, a problem solver for Amazon.com in Seattle and a resort worker at Mt. Denali National Park in Alaska. He also wrote a sports column for the Oroville Mercury Register before acquiring Bustolini’s last year.
Upon entering the deli you will see Backstrom—you can’t help it; he’s always there.
Just below the register and the imported meat/cheese display cooler is a variety of fresh-bread bins. Your sandwich starts here. You choose a roll or sliced bread (delivered fresh daily) and then hand it to Bob. Next you tell him how you like it—meat, cheese, veggies and extras. The meats are supplied by Tony’s of Sacramento and the veggies from S&S Produce here in Chico. Sandwiches come with mayo, mustard (including Dijon, if desired), olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles.
I was hot and in no mood for giving orders, so I went with the special, the Pan Roasted Chicken Sandwich with Monterey jack cheese, Dijon, curry (yes curry) and the works. The meat didn’t drown out the sandwich, but the slices were hardy and the curry was subtle. I found myself just giving into how good it was. It was not even worth trying to be a food critic at that point.
The sandwich menu has three tiers. The first tier includes your more conservative George Bush-like meats: oven-roasted turkey, Virginia honey ham and smoked turkey. The second tier has more of your Hillary Clinton variety: corned beef, lemon pepper turkey and Capicola. And the third tier has the more progressive Ralph Nader-esque (is he even a carnivore?) meat options: finocchiona (fennel salami), porchetta, sopressata and much more. The cheese and meats are out of this world, and from all over the world, and whole sandwiches (large) range from $5.99 to $7.99.
You can also buy cheese and meat by the pound. Cheese prices range from $9.99 a pound for Havarti up to $21 a pound for the renowned Red Dragon, imported from England. Meats range from $7.50 a pound for oven-roasted turkey up to $19.99 a pound for imported Italian prosciutto.
Bustolini’s also has soup. My favorite is the Hungarian mushroom, which comes with sourdough and butter ($2.75 a cup and $3.75 a bowl). If you like blue cheese, you have to order the blue-cheese potato salad ($6.99 a pound). The tortellini salad ($9.25 a pound) has an especially ardent following. Backstrom said, “When I’m out of this, people get mad at me.” The deli also carries some difficult-to-find beverages like Moose Drool Ale and S.Pellegrino’s mineral water.
Bustolini’s is also the best-kept catering secret in Chico. If you are so much as thinking about catering, pick up a catering menu. It runs the gamut: deli trays, salads, baked dishes, antipasti and desserts. Backstrom said he is also working on a new breakfast menu, including furtadas and breakfast sandwiches.
Just as good as the food is the get-up. On the back wall is a beautiful new mural by Laine Weisemann that includes images from past- and present-day Chico. A brick wall lines one side of the dining area, and small Venetian lamps hang from the vaulted ceilings. And the emerald-green vintage tiles, along with the classic Milan café prints, make you feel that, just maybe, a gondola is awaiting you outside.