Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eating Out My Buddy Sam

No, not friend of EOF and our buddy’s wife Samantha. Ewww! She’s pregnant! That’d be like Turducken or something, right? No, no. Sick, dirty, people. We’re talking about Fresno’s own, Sam’s Italian Deli and Market! Where they actually do stuff things into other things. But, with a much more pleasant and delicious surprise.

A family owned and operated Fresno landmark for roughly 3 decades, Sam’s is your go-to spot in Fresno for all things involving lovingly preserved meats. Oh yeah, they sell a lot of Italian foodly goods as well. Not to mention fresh bread, wines, cheeses, frozen homemade pastas, fresh made sauces, olive oils, fine vinegars. Pretty much anything you can think of to make a delicious Italian meal. Easy way, hard way, Sam’s offerings and service just give you a warm sense that they want you to eat well, no matter how much effort you want to put into the meal.

Want to make life easy? Pick up a bag of their frozen handmade raviolis, a pint of their marinara sauce, a half loaf of their pre-prepped garlic bread and a little parmesan and you’re golden. Boil the pasta, heat up the sauce, toss the bread in the oven. Mix, slice, serve. Done! Or, you can pick up some fine canned San Marzano tomatoes (4 different styles, 13 different brands), fresh or dried herbs, your choice of several different romano or parmesan cheeses, 3 different styles of Italian sausage, a mind blowing selections of pasta or everything you need to make your own, and a robust selection of different olive oils…see what I mean?

So let’s split it up a bit and tackle the grocery area first. The first thing you notice on your way in the door is their wine section. Not being much of a vino fiend, I can’t really speak with great authority about their selection. I can however say that their selection includes a large rack of Under $10 wines. Which always works for cheap ass, wine-ignorant me. But I also noticed that they had a few vintages that were climbing well over $75. I assume that makes it really great, bad grape juice.

Moving on! They have a nice, compact area for pickles, preserves and canned fish. Great selection of capers and anchovies. Plus, numerous toppings and spreads involving red bell peppers, eggplant and the like. Then we scoot around to the wall of tomaters. I’m pretty sure they stock enough to arm an entire Jr. High for a Spanish style tomato street war. Pretty much all San Marzano plum tomatoes, concasee’d whole or puree’d. And some of the nifty toothpaste tube Euro style tomato paste, so you don’t waste a whole can if you don’t need a whole can. I wonder if those will ever take off here.

Then we come to their frozen section of mass awesomeness. Here you can buy just about any delicacy that their kitchen can turn out. Soups, pastas, sauces, desserts and even 1 serving meals. Onto the cookie rack! If you like amaretto, you will lose your freaking mind over these little amaretti cookies by Lazzaroni. And shuffle next, to the wall of olive oils and vinegars. Pretty impressive! Much like the wine selection, there are decent olive oils priced just a low as anywhere else and there are very fine olive oils that one would use when you’re not just frying some veg and chicken. Some good looking basalmics and even some reasonably priced truffle products. I might have to hit these up to ease my morel withdrawls soon.

We’re ever so tempted to peek at the meat counter…BAD! No! Bad monkey, no sock for you. Next is produce! Got it? Ok, produce…kinda sad. But it’s understandable, with folks either shopping at farmers markets and organic hippy joints or just buying the cheapest stuff they can find, with little middle ground, a small grocery store’s fresh produce section just isn’t going to make them money. Sad little packets of sliced mushrooms were testament to this fact. But hidden in sadness is joy! For, a safe distance from the ‘shrooms, there were dirt cheap end-pieces of prosciutto!! Happy dance! Don’t get me wrong, I like fancy as much as the next guy, but this stuff was like 1/3rd the price of the full sized shank pieces. And, if one were INSANE, just the right size for a pot of beans…hmm maybe cassoulet? Cheese island is nice as well. Small hunks of parm and romano, a few other sliced bits and some odd looking little salamis.

Along this wall also, is the cold beverage case. Chilled wines, champagnes and beers. Strange as hell to watch a guy pull a 6 pack a Corona out of the same area there is Peroni and Moretti and other interesting Italian brews RIGHT THERE! No accounting for taste I guess. Once, I knew a full blood Irishman who loved the asshole right out of Budweiser. Still makes me weep on rainy Sundays. A Pelligrino Orange soda will make me happier. And so does the pasta section. We’ll just call it robust as hell and point out that they’ve got 3 different choices for risotto rice too!

Deli Counter!!!! I’ve been yearning for this for an hour of power shopping. The little indulgence (ok, huge, expensive indulgence) that’s gonna make me titter every time I open my meat drawer. Well, after I’m done tittering at yanking open a “meat drawer”…sounds like a rude title for an extendable vagina. Excuse me miss, could I put my prosciutto di parma in your meat drawer? It’s sliced very thin.

Oh yeah, they got prosciutto, and Spanish Serrano ham, and pancetta. Tip o’ the iceberg. So many kinds of salami’s that you mystically find yourself rubbing your bum bum on the glass like an pants wearing baboon in heat (they frown on this by the way). Next door is the cheese zoo. Many kinds, several countries, all tasty. Sitting above them are more traditional luncheon meats like turkey, a few different hams and fabulous baloneys like their mortadellas and a new, nifty, smoky, Weaver's Lebanon bologna that tastes, hands down, just like a Slim Jim. Just without all the grease, bone and skin. Must try it! Just don’t think about my description when you do.

Onto the salad portion! They’ve got a really nice selection of olives. All kinds, various preparations. Nifty little deli type dishes like bruscetta topping, tortellini salad, marinated mushrooms (fuggin GOOD!) and a nice selection of single/dual serving fresh entrees that you can whisk off to home or office and reheat. And bless ‘em, they’re truthful about their seafood salad being made with surimi. I still think it’s more elegant and truthful than calling it krab.

And at last, my favorite punctuation to every trip here and the only spot that wars with my undying love of the salami/prosciutto section…fresh meat! As wide as the salami section is, the fresh area is much more focused. Check my earlier rant about produce, so they’re not slinging every cut from cow or pig. In truth, it’s chops, good lookin’ chops I might add. Chuck steak and ground chuck. But I’m not here for a barbeque. I’m pre-moistening my undies over their amazing sausages! Each of their Italians are awesome. Sweet, med-hot and Red-Hot-Italian-Stallion sausage. Good on their own, with some sautee’d peppers or as a foundation flavor for your favorite sauce. And then we come to the Prince of Sausage. He’s thin, long and coiled…ready to strike…your taste buds. Cervellata sausage is a thin, fairly long coiled sausage with a handy skewer for turning. I’m told it’s just a little salt and pepper in the meat. But it is addictively delicious. I could grill and eat these babies all day.

The final note on Sam’s should be the most definitive. And that’s certainly their sandwich service at the deli counter. Wonder what that weird sausage tastes like? Ask the guy for a taste! Like it? They’ll make it into a sandwich! Oh, and they do actually have a menu too. Great meat combos, hot sandwiches, sauced and not. Even braggable pastrami and steak sandwiches.

I’m sure that I’m preaching to the choir here for a lot of you. But if even one person who lives around the ‘No and hasn’t heard of or tried the wonderous wares of Sam’s…because of living in a religious cult deep in the wilds of Clovis, led by a one eye’d buck toothed prophet named Pepper… Anyway! If you haven’t tried them and then you do, you’ll like, thank me or something. Or try to kill me because I blew yer shot on The Biggest Loser. Whichever it is, prosciutto is more delicious than fame any day.