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Bay Cities Deli - Just Like the Godmother Ordered for 85 Years  

By Melonie Magruder
Special to the Lookout News

February 17, 2011 -- Back when the Bay Cities Deli opened on the corner of Broadway and Lincoln in 1925, it was probably easier to find a parking place.

But then, Santa Monicans had not yet experienced "the Godmother," the molti Italiano sandwich that has easily reigned supreme over the Bay Cities menu for nearly five generations. So if you plan on discovering this old-fashioned neighborhood treasure, give yourself plenty of time to park and explore.

Victorio shows off his handiwork. (Photo by Gene Williams)

Bay Cities Deli is so much more than just a quick lunch spot. Operating continually for 85 years under five different owners, Bay Cities has been witness to Santa Monica's explosion from a sleepy burg of 20,000 residents to the internationally known city it is today. The secret to their sustained success?

"The bread," manager Hector Padilla declared. "We make it from scratch everyday and it's a real, old Italian family recipe."

That would be the bread serving the extensive list of sandwich choices, or accompanying the platters of fresh salads, or available to tear off warm-from-the-oven chunks to dip into one of their astonishing variety of olive oils, including a $60 Montevertine or an Extra Virgin brand bottled with blood oranges.

World-class vinegars? Try a passion fruit balsamic reduction. Or slice up a fresh Filone loaf and spread it with some roasted tomato harissa, one of a dozen tapenades, some Mousse de Canard au Porto or a thick smear of La Serena sheep's milk cheese with thistle flower.

It's all part of the international flavor to Bay Cities that belies its Italian-centric deli mojo. This is an egalitarian eating experience.

"Bay Cities was first established as a real Italian deli and not so much a grocery store like today," Padilla said. "We started out where Swingers is today and moved to this location in the early 70s. Over time, they added international food items, but our deli recipes haven't changed at all."

On top of the glorious array of international victuals, fresh pasta, spices, cheeses, olives and gelati, Bay Cities also offers a wide variety of cooking and serving utensils that one doesn’t just pick up at Sears.

Where else will you find that last-minute potato ricer or milk frother or tiny crepe pan or huge ceramic serving platter, brightly glazed and resting with a satisfying heaviness on your table?

Much of the on-going high standard can be attributed to Victorio, the deli manager who has overseen Bay Cities’ lunch counter since 1971. He’s responsible for strict adherence to established recipes and is full of old country wisdom that he doles out in memorable catch phrases.

“Any olive oil can be good, if you know how to use it,” Victorio said while managing sandwich orders and replenishing bowls of grilled carciofi. “Here, I take everything good and make it… better.”

While Victorio acknowledges the storied “Godmother” sandwich with reverence

(fresh Italian roll with mortadella, Genoa salami, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone, peppercinis and all the salads), he says the best sandwich on the board is the tri-tip with horse radish cheddar. He advises ordering early on Saturdays, before they are sold out.

During a brief break, he reflects on what makes Bay Cities such a reliable menu.

“We’re not a foo-foo store here,” he said. “I don’t like foo-foo markets. If you want hearty fare that’s good and fresh you come here. And if you have to wait in line, you wait in line.”

Some, however, would argue that waiting in line is one of the best parts of the lunch experience, at least in terms of people watching. Surfer dudes vie with tiger moms (“Sorry, honey, that’s mostly sugar. Look at these dried fruit rolls!”) for proximity to the order counter, and watch, disgruntled, when Victorio scrapes up the last, crusty bits from the pan of mac-and-cheese for some lucky soul who arrived five minutes earlier.

Anna Bove was trolling the aisles, chatting in Italian with a friend. The leggy beauty from Naples is in fashion, but that doesn’t prevent her from loading up on some of Bay Cities’ best, calorie-laden gourmet features.

“A client told us about Bay Cities Deli and we were so happy to find it,” Bove said. “There’s a lot of stuff here you can find at home and it makes us less homesick.”

Padilla is also proud of their wine selection, where you can find a limited production Napa Cabernet for under $30 or a classic Brunello di Montalcino for $112. He said that, beyond adding a catering menu (pick up only) and the availability of online ordering, their business philosophy hasn’t changed much.

“We can maintain this high quality because we can concentrate on serving our customers here,” Padilla said. “We’re not interested in franchising.”

Or as Victorio said, “Italian is in the heart. You don’t need to go to Italy.”

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery is found at 1517 Lincoln Blvd. (310) 395 8279. Closed Mondays, open 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.


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