By Vickie Lewis
As the title of the article implies, The New Deli Café is anything but “new!” In fact, it has been established in its current location for 32 years, nestled inconspicuously on the north side of the Del Monte Plaza in Pinole, next to the 99 Cents Only store. It’s one of many well-established and popular venues in the local community that I’ve driven by for years but didn’t know of its existence. I was totally surprised when co-owner Jennifer (Jen) Cote told me that she and her husband, Tom, originally opened the café in 1985. And while The New Deli is no longer “new” to the community, it was certainly new to me, and it just may just be new to you too. Read on to learn a bit about the evolution of The New Deli Café and the many reasons you’ll want to add this venue to your favorite eateries in the New Year!
Jen learned the art of cooking at a very early age from her mother who made nearly everything from scratch. As a child, she helped with the cooking, and at the age of 10 compiled her first construction paper “cookbook” and gave it to her Mom for Mother’s Day. Cooking and baking became second nature to her, and she continued it into adulthood. She married Tom at the age of 17, and the newlyweds aspired to someday open their own restaurant. The road to opening The New Deli began when Jen assumed ownership of a small, local vegetarian burrito business in 1982. She made hundreds of burritos, sandwiches, and salads out of their small home which were delivered daily to Bay Area health food stores. After three years, the business became too big to manage out of their “cottage,” so Tom quit his job and the couple sought out retail space, and The New Deli Café soon after became a reality.
Committed to offering a “new” style of delicatessen food, and building off of the burrito business, the menu initially boasted plenty of vegetarian fare, including homemade soups and salad dressings. Over the last 30+ years, The New Deli’s menu has undergone numerous changes based on trends and customer feedback but the menu still includes numerous vegan and vegetarian options, unlike many delicatessens. The current menu is primarily lunch fare, but when The New Deli Café first opened, they served breakfast and even dinners. In the early days, Jen and Tom offered various elaborate foods to continue to attract and retain customers. They even had an espresso machine (well before Starbuck’s became popular), which was popular with customers, but understandably, this has long since been retired. Eventually breakfasts and dinners were discontinued because the business was not sufficient to sustain the long hours, Jen and some of her staff do most of the cooking at The New Deli, and Tom is the “brains” (and brawn!) behind the operation. Although his responsibilities are many, he often works as a cashier, and keeps the café stocked with inventory at all times.
Over two-thirds of The New Deli’s current menu–sandwiches numbered 1 through 27– have been offered since The New Deli Café first opened. These include fourteen Vegetarian and thirteen traditional sandwich selections, many of which are not creations typically found at other delicatessens. For example, the New Deli’s vegetarian menu includes a Mozzarella Roast, made with eggplant and peppers, served on wheat toast with lettuce and sprouts; and a Mideastern Burger, made with falafel, Tahini, cucumber, tomato, onion, and sprouts on a wheat bun. The traditional menu includes a fresh Meatloaf sandwich, served hot or cold, with house-made thousand island dressing and “the works” served on a sesame seed roll; and a Bacon/Mozzarella sandwich with roasted peppers, eggplant, and lettuce, served on wheat toast. There are, of course, many traditional favorites, as well as their own separate menu of Specialty Sandwiches. With so many choices, there is certainly something to tempt everyone’s palate. At The New Deli, nearly all of the foods offered are made from scratch using wholesome ingredients. All of the chickens used for sandwiches and salads are cooked on site, and they also roast their own beef daily. And although they used to make their own bread, they now source their breads fresh daily from the popular Richmond-based Maggiora Bakery.
The menu also includes nearly a dozen large green salads, as well as half-salads, which are served with your choice of fresh house-made dressing on the side (unless specified tossed) and buttered baguettes. All salads are freshly made to order, and the variety and uniqueness of choices is pretty impressive for small café. There is also a daily home-made pasta salad available, perfect for a sandwich accompaniment or simply to eat by itself! Home-made soups are also a specialty at The New Deli. The standard menu includes French Onion Soup and Black Bean Chili (with or without cheddar cheese.) But there is also at least one featured Soup of the Day, and sometimes, there can be up to three or four featured specialty soups. Most of the soups are gluten-free and vegetarian, and many are also non-dairy. And what could be better on a cold winter’s day than a hot bowl of freshly made soup? Customers are encouraged to call ahead to find out about the daily soup specials. Jen creates a variety of appealing soups that you’ll surely want to try!
Rounding out The New Deli Café’s extensive menu are three popular hot pasta entrees: Chicken Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Pasta Carbonara. All three are made fresh daily and feature Jen’s homemade sauces. Although I did not have the opportunity to try any of these dishes, any one of these paired with a half-salad seems like it would be a very hearty and delicious meal. Jen and staff also make several “grab and go” homemade desserts to satisfy one’s sweet tooth after partaking of one of their many healthy lunch selections. The standard dessert offerings include the ever-popular Chocolate Chip cookies, Oatmeal Shortbread cookies, Brownies and Lemon Bars. When I visited, the café offered Lime Bars instead of Lemon Bars, as one of the employees had shared a plentiful harvest of limes with Jen. I was lucky enough to partake of one of these luscious sweet treats, and it was scrumptious! It was pretty sweet, yet had just a slight hint of tartness. I should also mention that the crust was melt-in-your-mouth luscious—a “must try” for those who enjoy something sweet after lunch.
I visited The New Deli Café one weekday afternoon as the lunch rush was winding down. From the outside, the deli looked rather small, so upon entry, I was surprised at how much space and seating was actually available inside. Eight glass-topped tables with tablecloths line the inside perimeter of the café, each of which seats two to four patrons each. On warm days, additional seating is available outside to accommodate patrons who choose to dine at the care. Just inside the door is the order counter, above which hangs four large menu boards suspended from the ceiling, highlighted with track lighting. The kitchen/preparation area is visible behind the order counter, where staff busily work as a team to prepare customer orders. The workspace is cozy, but I observed at least 6 – 8 workers clad in The New Deli Café T-shirts and aprons, bustling busily in that small space. That same small space sometimes accommodates up to thirteen workers during extremely busy times!) There is a refrigerated unit next to the order counter which holds salads and other items. After ordering, patrons proceed around the corner of the order counter to the cashier, where they can select beverages, chips, or desserts to accompany their lunch, and pay for their selections. The overall atmosphere of the café is casual and friendly. Picture frames on the walls feature past news articles about The New Deli Cafe, and miscellaneous pictures of the staff and their families.
After introducing myself to Jen, she offered me the opportunity to try something from their menu. With so many options available, I asked Jen for a recommendation to expedite the process, or I may have spent the next 15 minutes reviewing the menu! Jen mentioned that the Reuben sandwich had been very popular lately, and since I love Reuben sandwiches, I happily accepted her suggestion. The sandwich was prepared within minutes and delivered to my table. It was served warm on marbled bread and was grilled to a crisp perfection. Between the slices of bread was a generous portion of tender sliced pastrami, accompanied by an equally generous amount of sauerkraut. The thousand-island dressing used on the Reuben sandwiches is made in-house, and the natural sauerkraut used was mild and delicious. Every bite was delightfully crisp, and there was no greasiness or dripping dressing. It is one of the best Reuben sandwiches I’ve ever eaten! The side order of pasta salad that I’d ordered to accompany my sandwich was made with corkscrew pasta and was topped with fresh Parmesan cheese. Although the salad seemed not to have as much dressing as I would prefer, it was still very delicious. I found the salad to be a little dry, but it was still very flavorful. Although I did not order a drink that day, I noticed that the drinks offered were mostly soft drinks, bottled water, and other bottled beverages.
The New Deli Café does a robust take out business. Orders may be phoned in to the deli ahead of time, or customers can e-mail their orders in advance to: firstname.lastname@example.org, preferably 24 hours in advance. All e-mail orders should receive a response confirming receipt of the order; however, if no confirmation is received, customers are encouraged to call the deli during business hours to confirm receipt of their orders. The e-mail ordering works especially well for large orders, which the deli staff is happy to accommodate. While they no longer cater large, formal events, such as weddings, The New Deli Café is the “go to” provider for quality, freshly prepared foods for many local school events and business luncheons. Although the café does not open until 9:00 AM, staff members arrive as early as 6:30 AM to prep the day’s ingredients and prepare special orders. Their website provides a list of available catering options and pricing.
The New Deli Café’s business hours are currently Monday through Fridays from 9 AM to 3 PM. Until recently, the café was also open on Saturdays; however, in September 2017, a decision was made to close on weekends. The business hours have understandably changed over the years as the deli has responded to customer demands as well as the needs of family and staff members. Jen and Tom have two adult sons, Miles and Tyler, who essentially grew up at the café. As the boys grew older, Jen and Tom once before had closed the deli on Saturdays to allow them time to keep up with school and extra-curricular activities. The deli later reopened on Saturdays; but now, the owners have once again opted to close on weekends to spend more quality time with family and friends.
With the New Year upon us, most of us naturally resolve to making a fresh start, including shifting to healthier eating habits and getting into shape. This is an especially wonderful time to try The New Deli Café to help you stay on track. Choose one of their fresh salads or homemade soups, or indulge in one of their healthy vegetarian sandwiches. Jen and Tom and their entire staff are dedicated to preparing and serving high quality and delicious meals to local patrons. The New Deli Café is recognized as an excellent food establishment and a pillar in the community by those who have patronized them for many years. In addition to owning and operating the café, Jen regularly shares recipes and publishes a newsletter on The Grateful Table website at gratefultable.com. She is also the author of published cookbooks. The most recent, From the Land of Milk and Honey, is available for sale at The New Deli Café, and is chock full of wonderful recipes and information about food and cooking. Jen has also contributed many wonderful recipes to the Contra Costa Marketplace Magazine in the past. Look for her latest contribution in this month’s issue! Happy New Year to all of our readers!