The Counter of Monte Cristo

Deli-icious Deli

1237 Prospect Street, Suite J, La Jolla

‘The problem with La Jolla,” says Siamak, “is that its people are not experienced in sociability. It is a wonderful town, but it is very conservative. The locals don’t socialize.”

Derissi strokes his beard and nods agreement. The two are friends who grew up in Iran, studied painting in Europe, and have set up galleries next to each other in the International Shops arcade. They paint and sell their art right here. Makes you think this is what it must have been like with those Renaissance artists in their Italian ateliers.

I met them while I was waiting for my toasted Monte Cristo sandwich. I’d been looking for somewhere — heh, heh — cheap to eat in La Jolla. Popped into this arcade, International Shops. Looked low, luminous, and seductive, in a ’40s kind of way. Plants and trees in pots, hooped trelliswork overhead that dappled the light. Passed La Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant. Pity I ain’t in The Sweet Life money bracket.

Then I’m hearing — is that Middle-Eastern music? Must be from the two galleries, Siamak’s and Derissi’s. Opposite them, a tiny deli, Deli-icious, the Local’s Deli is doing good business. Looks cheap enough. This’ll do me fine.

I mean, cute? It’s all dollhouse cute, with a wreath hanging on a smoky-blue Dutch door, Art Deco lights, and more tables outside than in.

But inside, things are flying. One guy, Kyle, takes the orders from this line of one o’clock lunchers; the other, Adam, makes the sandwiches. I look up at the big yellow menu-board on the left wall. Two small tables with black-and-white-checkered plastic tablecloths are set against the window. The rest is counter space.

Sandwiches, soups, salads, and wraps all run six to eight bucks. The 1/4-pound hot dog is the only thing cheaper, at $3.50 (or $3.95, with sauerkraut and/or cheese). Oh, and I see that burritos, in all flavors (such as turkey, BBQ chicken, fish, or veggie), are $3.95 too.

The special today is a chef’s choice sandwich. It’s turkey, Swiss, avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, and onions on wheat. Usually $7.25, dollar off today. Hmm, probably a deal, but it doesn’t sound that interesting. Number 10, the Prospect, catches my eye. It’s American and sharp cheddar cheeses melted over roast beef and ham, with a sprinkle of Tabasco, $7.50. They also have BLT, tuna- or chicken-salad sandwiches for $6.50, and any half-sandwich with soup or salad for $6.50. Adam recommends the #22 or #15: the #22 is a TNT, tuna on rye with lots of Tabasco ($6.50); the #15 is a TBA, turkey-bacon-avocado, with jack cheese and sprouts, tomatoes, and onions ($7.50).

I’m just about to go for that one when the guy ahead of me asks for a #4, like it’s his regular thing. It’s the Monte Cristo. Huh. I’ve liked Monte Cristo sandwiches ever since I got lost in that book when I was a teen. Alexander Dumas, right? Exotic adventure, guy goes through hell, ends up rich, sophisticated? So that’s what I expect from this sandwich. Rich, exotic, little bit adventurous. Plus I’ve gone through hell deciding on it. Hmm. Quarter-pound of hot turkey and ham with Spanish olives and melted Swiss cheese, plus lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on toasted whole wheat ($6.75). I mean, I thought a Monte Cristo was always with fried or grilled bread and spattered with powdered sugar. But, hey, if this is the way La Jollans like it, go ahead. Make my day.

“What he’s having,” I say. “And a coffee [$1.75].” I head for the tables outside in the arcade. And boy. Beeyootiful place to sit. There’s something miniature about it all. “It used to be a hotel, in the old days,” says this dapper gent, as I sip from my coffee. “That was maybe 60 years ago? Each of these boutiques was a cabin for the guests.”

This was Siamak, first time I met him. Then Abbas Derissi comes out from his gallery. I notice that all his paintings are surrealistic, with long, thin ladders to heaven, and girls lying under the edge of the ocean like it was a blanket, and fish swimming through the air. He has a magnificent white beard that joins up with his hair in an oval white frame around his face. You think “Zorba the Greek,” but he’s Iranian, too.

We get to talking. Siamak tells me how after his studies he set up in an arcade just like this in Italy. “It was near the Ponto Vecchio, in Florence. Similar to here, except, of course, the Italians, they know better how to enjoy their life.”

Wow. Where do you sign up for “enjoying your life” school? I go get my sandwich from Adam. Bring it out in its brown paper bag, piping hot. Haul it out, bite in, and Monte Cristo! It’s, well, like the novel: lush, exotic, a little bit adventurous. Think I’m starting to enjoy my life. Actually, what it is is toasty outside, squishy inside, salty and rich. Okay, I miss the sinful, fried-bread thing, but it’s still a great sandwich, and at least I know I won’t fall into a cholesterol coma halfway through the afternoon. The combination of the generous lot of olives with the melted cheese and ham and turkey, enclosed by that toasted wheat…it’s not a huge sandwich, but it’s plenty, and plenty tasty.

I go get a refill for my coffee (50 cents). It’s been a nice lunch, partly because of this beautiful old arcade, partly because of the sandwich, and partly because of my new artist friends. Heck, turns out Derissi knew Salvador Dalí, man, Mr. Melting Clocks himself — and Marc Chagall. Guess it must have rubbed off. I ask him how much for a painting of his I notice called The Red Apple. Wow. $15,000.

That’d buy a lot of Monte Cristo sandwiches.

The Place: Deli-icious Deli, in the International Shops arcade, 1237 Prospect Street, Suite J, La Jolla, 858-456-6235

Type of Food: Sandwich, salad

Prices: La Jollan breakfast wrap (two eggs, bacon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions), $3.50; chef’s choice sandwich (turkey, Swiss, avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, onions on wheat), $7.25; the Prospect, cheeses melted over roast beef and ham with sprinkle of Tabasco, $7.50; BLT, $6.50; tuna sandwich, $6.50; chicken-salad sandwich, $6.50; half-sandwich with soup or salad, $6.50; TNT (tuna on rye with Tabasco), $6.50; TBA (turkey, bacon, avocado), with jack cheese, $7.50; Monte Cristo (turkey, ham, olives, Swiss, $6.75; cobb salad, $5.95

Hours: 7:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; 11:00 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday

Bus: 30

Nearest Bus Stop: Torrey Pines Road and Prospect

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