Thursday, March 2, 2006
Mecca Delicatessen’s cooler is a wondrous thing. Open the glass door to fetch a six-pack of Dinkel Acker, and you are arrested by a sublime, spicy, earthy aroma. Peer over the tops of the beer bottles into the cooler’s dim recesses, and you may see salami and sausages hanging. On shelves, unseen, sides of smoked pork are curing; cabbages are being pickled into sauerkraut.
There is a story to tell here, and some background to impart—I will get to it. It feels more important, however, to first simply list the ingredients. In the Mecca Deli story the ingredients are the stars.
The deli case contains a display that appears modest, until one looks closely. When I visited last week, there were seven types of liverwurst—some from goose liver, calf’s liver and with pistachio. It made me happy just to look at them.I’d had an excellent liverwurst sandwich from Mecca a few days earlier, and I instantly looked forward to six more.
There was a veal loaf and three or four types of bologna. (Those of you who think bologna is kids’ stuff—fine. More for me.) There were five types of salami—Italian salami, Hungarian salami and several varieties of German salami, including Mecca’s own house-made version.
There was a fresh roast beef, roasted on the premises. And in what appears to be an honored place, there is a loaf of home-made head cheese.
House-made meats—that is a theme in the Mecca Deli Story. Lisa Magadini, former chef at Pebble Beach’s Club XIX, as well as Boston’s Four Seasons, bought the deli three years ago because she had developed a love for breaking down duck and for making sausage from scratch, for galantine and fois gras. If high-quality, home-made ingredients are the soul of good cooking, then Magadini is a keeper of that soul—especially that part of it found in the German tradition.
There is a simplicity to all of this, and at the same time it involves such sophistication. I discovered Magadini and her deli at last year’s Community Feeds a Nation benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. With many of the area’s best chefs manning booths dispensing the fanciest foods imaginable, Magadini was serving home-made sausage on crackers. It was so good that several people I ran into at the event urged me to find her booth. Even amid the lobster mousse and mini-crepes and seared scallops and fine wines, her simple offering was a standout.
And there it is in the deli case—her house-made bratwurst. She offers two varieties—one traditional, and the other with the addition of organic rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Next to it, imported wieners, knackwurst, and bachwurst, pickled herring (three varieties) and smoked mackerel.
There is something Old World about shopping at the deli before going home to cook. For me, Old World means New Jersey, where German, Jewish and Italian delis made shopping a bit more interesting than it was at the supermarket. (Magadini, as it happens, also grew up in New Jersey, but in an old farmhouse out in the countryside, a world away from my homeland suburbs of New York City.)
Last week I brought home the traditional brats, and Penelope and I had a couple with garlic mashed potatoes and the first of this year’s asparagus from the farmers market. Last Sunday night we had Magadini’s home-smoked pork chops, roasted with winter squash and apples in a covered ceramic dish. These were simple meals; neither was a bit boring. The bratwurst was spicy but not hot—every bite a treat. The pork chops were smoky, juicy, perfect.
Today for lunch it was the house-made salami and head cheese (yes), with mustard and provolone, on Beckman’s German Farm Bread, along with a big serving of picked red cabbage. The head cheese was subtly spiced, and (yes) incredibly rich. It’s delicious, and might be my new favorite thing, except for the salami. The red cabbage, which was made special for last week’s Taste of Marina, was smoky and sweet and pickle-sour—a flavor enjoyed because of its rareness.
Magadini bought the Mecca Deli from Helmut Boch, who had owned it for almost 30 years. She runs it with Renata Jones, a German native who worked for Boch when he owned the place. It’s Jones who tells me, “With food, you have to have an open mind. Otherwise, you miss out on a lot.”
MECCA DELICATESSEN 215 Reservation Rd, Marina Open Mon-Sat 8am-6pm 384-7821