by Rich Eber

When it comes to writing about Italian Delis, the cry of “more research is needed” can be heard from me as I ponder where to venture next.
Fortunately, in Concord, Walnut Creek, and Clayton, we are blessed with several places that provide quality deli fare. I am not referring to the many deli chains and grocer departments in our area such as the Subway, Togos, Jimmy Johns, even Safeway, each of varying quality, but they all seem to lack the familiar smell of salami, garlic, olive oil, roasted meats and freshly prepared salads when entering the premises.
I prefer the old Italian-style deli and charm. When I walk in the door at Luigi’s across from Concord Bart, the familiarity immediately reminds of Molinari’s in San Francisco’s North Beach. Even though its founder Luigi sold the business several years ago when he retired, his presence lives on. His mother’s recipes for rigatoni, lasagna, and anti-pasta, polenta, crab, potato, and pasta salads continue to delight. Their signature sandwiches in the $10.00 range are worth every cent (or should I say scent). They come thick and tasty with Italian names such as ‘Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, and Placido Domingo to adorn them.
Just down the street on Clayton Road, you can find a smaller version of Luigi’s called The Parma Deli. It has been around for over 20 years. It is a family run operation with Mary and her son, Sam, at the controls. Parma cooks up some of the best deli foods around which are also available for their catering business. Their cole slaw and chicken salad is top-notch as are the homemade meatball sandwiches dripping with cheese and marinara sauce. All of Parma’s sandwiches are filled with generous layers of fresh meat. A good introduction to Parma Deli is Tri-Tip Wednesday for a BBQ sandwich of high quality, medium-rare meat served with all the fixings.
In Walnut Creek, Genoa Delicatessen located on Treat Blvd. near Bancroft and off Olympic Blvd. continues to provide quality food in the best tradition of Italian cuisine. In addition to all the salads, antipasto, and prepared meals that surpass most of the competition, Genoa makes up a line of ravioli, pastas, and sauces which are also sold in other venues. During lunch hours, it may take several minutes after grabbing a red ticket to be served, but the time spent is worth it. Choose among different rolls and an endless list of different deli meats, cheeses, and toppings. The result is a thick, tasty sandwich that for most of Genoa’s patrons is a hearty meal.
Morucci’s Deli, also in Walnut Creek, is a hidden gem, literally. It’s located off the beaten track under the Hwy 24/680 interchange on Boulevard Way, hindered by limited neighborhood parking. Nevertheless, it enjoys a deserved popularity. Be aware, there are long lines after 11:45 a.m. I always arrive early, especially when taking my 98-year-old Mom to lunch there. She is a turkey breast gal who is always gratified at Morucci’s because they roast their birds fresh each day. The salads, sandwiches, and pastries they serve are all high quality and fairly priced.
While most chained establishments pre-make the contents of their sandwiches and use scales to assure that patrons equally receive a strict (thin) portion of meats, cheeses, and other toppings with each order, my deli picks do an excellent job in providing a high-quality dining experience that is heavy on ingredients.
There is, however, one place that stands out in Clayton next to the bocce ball courts. One must experience Canesa’s Brooklyn Heros. What sets them apart from their worthy competition is owner John Canesa. John does not deviate from his formula of success. This means East Coast Pastrami, homemade meatballs, tomato onion vinaigrette, a drop-dead crushed olive mixture, and soft sub rolls, with no exceptions allowed. The obtuse, sometimes “in your face” Brooklyn persona of Canesa is part of the show, but his sandwich creations tell the whole story. His Fat Clemenza features ham, salami, coppa, soppressata, lettuce, provolone, bathed in his famous tomato mixture and is excellent. Canesa embodies and delivers 25 other choices all which equally honor the creativity and love of New York-style delis.
In my estimation, they provide the best sandwiches in the region… but as I said at the start of this article, “more research is needed.”