Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Afar: Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, Los Angeles, California

1517 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-8279

By Sandwich Koufax

“How far will you drive for a sandwich?” It’s a question we don’t get asked very often (by my count, I’ve never been asked), but it’s got to be one of life’s most important questions. And now I’m asking you. How far will you drive for a sandwich? How many hours (or days) will you journey? What kind of personal growth are you willing to experience for two slices of bread and some meat? As it turns out, my answer was about twenty minutes.

Los Angeles is a food lovers paradise. Not only can one find any type of cuisine, one can also find multiple options for that cuisine. If you don’t like the fried crickets at the place on Sunset, you can try them in Santa Monica, and the place in Silverlake will roast them with cockroaches if you ask them right. This creates an endless and healthy amount of debate. But if you survey any food lover in Los Angeles about their favorite sandwich most will list Bay Cities Deli at the top. If it’s not in the top slot it’s almost certain that it will be in their top three (Larchmont Deli and Portos tend to be the other top choices).

Unfortunately, the other thing about Los Angeles - and trust me, I hate to give strength to the cliché - is that it is sprawling. The beach is seventeen miles away, but it could easily take me an hour and it will never take less then twenty-five minutes. About five years ago I committed to living in Los Feliz, the first neighborhood I’ve ever lived in that felt like home. I barely use my car on the weekends (the first thing to ever happen in my life which made me think that miracles do exist) and I’m even starting to be on first name basis with local vendors. My neighborhood is a paradise and I rarely regret living here. However, when I made the choice to live here, I was also choosing to live a minimum of twenty-five minutes away from the best sandwich in Los Angeles. And so it had been approximately five years since the last time I made it all the way to Lincoln Ave and ate a Godmother sandwich from the counter at Bay Cities Deli, proof that my maximum travel time for a sandwich was about twenty minutes.

Fortunately, I recently had a meeting on the westside, within blocks of Bay Cities Deli, and I was able to convince my writing partner that it was our only option for lunch. It had been a long time, but it all came rushing back the minute I saw the simple red sign shining like a beacon. The experience is half the battle at Bay Cities. Not just a deli, Bay Cities is also a small grocery store with narrow aisles. I know they sell various sundries, but I couldn’t give you any specifics, because the first thing you do upon entering is brave the crush of humanity crowding around the deli counter. Bay Cities is busy enough that when we took our number, 83 they were currently serving customer 93 (hyperbole, but I’ve been as many as 40 digits away on the weekend). The number of customers also forces you to be ready; the fifteen or so employees working the 30 foot counter have no patience for the slow or weak, and if you’re not ready for them, they will move on without mercy. When our number finally came I ordered my usual (or what would be my usual if I had been to Bay Cities in the last half decade), the Godmother Sandwich: genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone, with the works, no onions, no pickles and spicy peppers.

The Godmother is the type of sandwich that is going to get messy on you. Fortunately it comes wrapped in heavy duty butcher paper, so the oils, toppings and various chunks of sandwich that get squeezed out as you attempt to tear your way through the tough and deliciously crusty bread get trapped in a nice stew that you can reference at various points in the sandwich. Feel like you could use some more peppers? There they are, collected in the butcher paper. Want some more dressing on your next bite? Just dip the sandwich in the pool in the paper. This is a sandwich you need a napkin for, so make sure to ask for it when you pay at the register. But it’s also a sandwich that makes you reconsider your answer to life’s most important question. As I slaughtered this sandwich (and it was a slaughter) I was kicking myself for letting time and distance separate me from something I already knew was so good. It’s not like Bay Cities was a place I’d been “meaning to try.” It was a place I had been meaning to go back to, but I let the traffic on the 10 keep me away, and that was not something I was comfortable with.

The Godmother sandwich has been written about a lot, but I’ll do my part and say that it might be the best sandwich I’ve ever had and it is without a doubt the best “Italian” style sandwich I’ve ever had in my belly. Everything about it is pitch-perfect. The bread is delicious and the hard crust will cut the roof of your mouth if you’re not careful. The meats are of impeccable quality and the five (FIVE!) different types complement each other well. The spicy Italian peppers are not overwhelming and the condiments add flavor without overwhelming anything else. This sandwich is the King and now that I’ve been reminded of what sandwich wears the crown in Los Angeles I have a new answer to life’s most important question. How far will I drive for a sandwich? How far is Bay Cities Deli?

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

That sandwich is my biggest regret about leaving LA... Hell, it's my biggest regret about leaving California.

Adrian Marti said...

I also miss this sandwich, my friends and I would crush a Godmother sandwich and go booze on 3rd street promenade on our days off. It was a perfect day all around. Being drunk in a family oriented setting is always amazing! I am back home in Cleveland now but on my trips out to LA I will definitely be stopping by Bay Cities deli to start my day of debauchery.