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Friday, September 29

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« As Long As You're Warm, Right? Everything Old is New Again »

Store Tue Dec 02 2008

San Marino Deli: Welcome New Addition to West Loop Lunch Desert

I work in the West Loop, a few blocks west from the Clinton station on the Green line. Although my coworkers say that the area has much improved in terms of lunch options in the recent years, it still seems like a lunch desert when it comes to cheap, quick meals that don't come from Subway or Jimmy John's. There's a pizzeria chain that cranks out surprisingly nice, fresh-tasting pizzas, and there's an endearingly wacky greasy spoon with a toy train running around on a rail laid out overhead. (If you know the area, you know what I'm talking about.) But if you have only 15 minutes to grab something and get back to work like I do most of the time, options are limited.

So when I saw a sign saying "Italian deli coming soon" iin the window of an empty storefront across the street from the CTA headquarters, I got very excited. As I watched the store's progression from bare concrete walls and empty wire shelves to gleaming deli counter to boxes of panettone and grissini, my excitement only grew bigger and bigger. When it finally opened as San Marino Deli recently, I jumped right in.

A small deli counter is stuffed with imported cheeses, cured meats, marinated olives, salads and a rotating daily selection of warm entrees like lasagna and herb-roasted chicken. Classic sandwiches are made with a few different types of Italian breads, cheeses and cured meats. The sandwiches are gigantic, even on an American scale. The meatball sandwich (called "American") was about two feet long, with four 2-inch meatballs and a generous ladleful of homemade tomato sauce (I got two lunches out of it). There's a full coffee bar that serves illy coffee and an assortment of simple but delicious-looking pastries (the croissant bursting with custard filling, which I grabbed one morning, was pretty good in a moist-not-flaky sort of way).

The word quickly spread, apparently, and by the end of the opening week, the place was packed like sardines. (It became so popular that they promptly installed a number-dispensing thing that you'd see in butcher shops.) Though new, San Marino Deli already exudes an undeniable air of a budding neighborhood institution. I spotted a middle-aged Italian guy with slick-back hair, designer eyeglasses and expensive suit flirt with the cashier lady while waiting for his sandwich; the guys behind the counter seem comfortable enough in their post to joke with the lunch crowd occasionally. In the morning, the decaffeinated workers are given their morning fix along with a "Have a good day!" that somehow sounds a lot more heartfelt than perfunctory.

Four days out of five, I bring my lunch to work (not the elaborate Japanese bento thing, but leftover stuff mostly). When I do need to pick up something, though, I now have a great deli to fall back on--something that I've been envious of my working-in-the-real-downtown husband.

(According to Tribune, the deli is owned by the people who operate Trattoria Isabella, just a few hundred yards away in the same neighborhood.)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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