Episode 26 - The Bay Cities Rollers
Bay Cities is famous for its sandwiches, in particular, the Godmother, which the reviewers on Yelp justifiably worship. A staple of my office mates when I used to work on the west side, these and other specials are pilgrimage-worthy creations. The venerable Santa Monica Italian deli and market is inundated every day at lunch by mobs of people willing to wait patiently for their chance to step up to the deli case and order from one of the many guys in white aprons behind the spread of speciality cold cuts and salads. On a late August afternoon, the FGs joined them.
Screens above the crowd rotate through the menu options, list the array of meats and cheeses available, explain what is included with "The Works"***, and generally keep everyone mesmerized as they stand around drooling.
Or shopping. The aisles are filled with all kinds of imported goodies...anchovies and balsamic vinegars, biscotti and capers and pasta from Italy. There are chilled drinks of all kinds, an array of gourmet cheeses, including fresh buffala mozzarella, cookwares, and bins of their amazing crusty bread, hot from the oven and a steal at less than $2 per loaf. I have personally gone miles out of my way for this bread, and counted my lucky stars on the drive home. The four of us FGs on this particular outing left with 6 loaves between us, plus some blood orange olive oil, cookies, organic applesauce, and a salami.
Despite the notoriety and accessibility of the Godmother (the store now stocks them fresh and ready made for those who don't want to wait in line -- nice!!!), on this trip we all gravitated to the hot food case. Not only is the line significantly shorter, the options here were all worth checking out.
FG4, visiting from DC, texted her vote for the meatball sub from the crazy-crowded parking lot as she hunted for a space****. I went for hot pastrami and Swiss. FG6 chose the Eggplant Parmesan, and FG17 had the barbecue beef. My niece, honorary Jr. FG, had the mac and cheese, fruit salad and a lemon bar. She's a bit of a lemon bar connoisseur at the age of 7.
After navigating the snaking checkout lines (hint! Bring cash!) and placating the disapproving security guy who told me in no uncertain terms to stop taking pictures in the store, we gathered at a table outside and unwrapped our loot.
All of the sandwiches were delicious, but some were truly outstanding.
The beef in the barbecue sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth tender and well seasoned, and the sauce was tasty, but it suffered in comparison to the other options on the table. Note that for this and the other multi-napkin sandwiches we ordered, you can see in the photos how well the bread works. The crunchy roll stands up beautifully, making each bite a great combination of crisp, slightly sour bread, mixed with the soft warmth and flavor from the filling. The sturdy crust did make it challenging for us to split each one into four with the flimsy plastic knives they offer, but we persevered.
The eggplant Parmesan was our first taste of the Bay Cities red sauce, which would make any Italian grandmother proud. Robust, rich, and finger-licking good, it almost overwhelmed the eggplant in this one. The eggplant itself was almost too soft for my taste, and the Parmesan, if it was in there, seemed a bit lost.
Mamma mia! Get a load of this cross-sectional view of the meatball sub! That red sauce had met a worthy match. The meatballs were soft yet chewy, not at all dry, and dense in a good way. They tasted homemade and fresh, and the balance in the sandwich was nearly perfect. A tiny bit more sauce would have made this truly amazing.
The hands down winner was the hot pastrami. Perhaps because this was the only hot sandwich to include the magical cocktail of condiments known as "The Works", perhaps because the generously portioned pastrami was lean, juicy and smoky and a little bit peppery, perhaps it was that creamy, slightly melted Swiss cheese...whatever it was, this sandwich rocked*****!
The mac and cheese was pronounced excellent, the pesto side salad less so. And when we asked the expert about that lemon bar, she had this to say:
"It was better than nothing, but it wasn't great."
There you have it.
Before heading back to our cars, FG4 passed out Perugina chocolate kisses to the group. She'd discovered the hazelnut treats on her trip to Italy, and was delighted to find them here. Each one contains not just the heavenly chocolate, but a fortune to go with it.
Our fortune was in Italian, but I'm pretty sure it translated to: Order the pastrami at Bay Cities. And go early to get a parking space!
FG Final Verdict? Bay Cities is ON the list!
Pricing info: Sandwiches $6-9, sides about $4. Exceptional loaf of bread: $1.79.
FG value rating: A steal for the quality and the amount of food you get.
* There had been far too many peach crisps, plum tarts and strawberry shortcakes this summer for that to be an option.
** Before onset of post-labor day traffic in LA, when going to Santa Monica for lunch would just be stupid.
*** Mayo, mustard, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, scrumptious Italian dressing, and chopped hot or mild peppers.
**** One of the most frustrating parts of coming here. That, and the shortage of available tables outside. Check out the line of cars waiting to get into the lot.
**** Like the namesake band from the 70s!!!