Deli Dilemma

Fortunato's Deli disappoints our reviewer, who misses the values of delicatessens of old

As it so happens, I'm currently reading a book called "Save the Deli" by David Sax, an award-winning food writer out of Toronto. The book centers on how time and tide have changed the definition of exactly what deli means and how corporate America, generational values, an aging population and a migration to the suburbs has forever changed delicatessens and the food they serve. Sax writes only of Jewish delis, but having grown up Italian I see many of the same similarities with Italian delis.

Gone are the aromas that greeted you at the door. Gone are the nanas stirring pots of tomato sauce in the back of the house. Gone are the handmade dishes, sandwiches, soups, salad dressings ... you've been there.

And that might just be what has happened at Fortunato's Deli on East Tanque Verde Road. Lunch was disappointing; dinner even more so. We even went to another restaurant afterward because we were so hungry.

The line was almost nonstop on a weekday visit to Fortunato's. Construction guys, families with young kids, older couples, men in business casualwear; it was as they say in Italian, "un poi di questo, un poi di quello." Most seemed to be ordering sandwiches, of which there are many choices. When you think deli, you think sandwich.

Yet our two sandwiches were met with two very different reactions.

The Super-sub, Italian style ($9.25) was good, but nothing much different than what you can find elsewhere in town. Boar's Head Genoa salami, spicy cappicola and several slices of thinly-sliced provolone were stacked neatly with tomatoes, pepperoncini, lettuce and Italian dressing on a sesame-seeded sub roll (from Viro's Italian Bakery).

Our hot sandwich was another story altogether. An eggplant Parmesan sandwich ($8.75) is one of my favorite sandwiches and when I find one on the menu, that's what I order. But each element in this sandwich didn't make the grade. The eggplant was mushy and bland with no hint of breading that adds so much to this kind of sandwich. And while the cheese was gooey and melted as it should be, the overly garlicky tomato sauce ruined the whole sandwich. We brought half of it home and at breakfast the next morning the odor of garlic was so strong the sandwich was inedible.

Another fave of mine, the caprese salad ($5.49), also fell short. The tomato was pale and tasteless (there's no excuse for a bad tomato in the middle of summer) and the fresh mozzarella hadn't been drained enough so that the balsamic vinegar dressing and herbs were watered down.

We brought home some of the dry pastas that Fortunato's sells, two large cannoli ($2.25) and a container of biscotti ($4).

The cannoli held together nicely even after a couple hours in the fridge at home. The shell remained crisp and the filling, a creamy, tangy mixture with chocolate chips, was as good as any I've had.

The biscotti (also from Viro's) hinted at anise and were quite good, especially with a cup of good strong coffee the next morning.

At dinner we ordered the lasagna with a meatball ($9.95) and a Reuben sandwich ($9.95) with potato salad. We also opted for one sausage ($1.50).

Dear me, what can be said about the lasagna. Somewhere in heaven, Italian nanas are weeping. Lasagna is supposed to be layers of pasta and cheese, meat and sauce baked to a golden brown. This lasagna was none of that. Instead, a couple pieces of pasta had been over cooked, stuffed with a thick goop of cheeses and then drenched in too much of that same garlicky sauce. The meatball seemed more bread than meat. Worst of all the sausage we ordered as an extra was in no way an Italian sausage—Polish maybe? But not Italian.

The Reuben was small and bland. I probably could've done better at home.

I was bummed about 90 percent of the food at Fortunato's. Perhaps at one time it was a nice Italian deli. But like many of the delis that David Sax writes about, the times have changed at Fortunato's. We won't be returning.

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