By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Other than ducking into Fiori’s Pizza & Deli for an occasional Lotto ticket and a fast slice of pizza, I never focused much on the menu board hanging over the food counter until recently.
To my surprise, the nearly 40-year-old liquor store conceals a grill and deep-fryer in a room behind the pizza ovens, which means items such as burgers, Philly cheesesteaks, Buffalo chicken wings, fried shrimp and veal-lamb gyros are sold here.
There are also several pasta dishes in the offing. Though listed on the board, the items are upstaged by copious options for traditional and specialty pizzas heading the menu.
Fiori’s has more or less passed my litmus test for pizza. The dough is made onsite and then stretched and tossed in plain view, resulting in a satisfactory crust that is neither insipid nor sensational. Sizes range from 14 inches to 20 inches at prices that fall comfortably below the local competition while slices cost $2 or $2.50, depending on their toppings.
The sauce is also house-made despite its restrained measures of oregano and spices. Yet while delving deeper into Fiori’s menu over a few visits, the sauce-less Blanco pizza crowned with ricotta cheese, garlic and finely chopped broccoli has become one of my favorite vegetarian pies in town. The ingredients are tastefully balanced.
A cheeseburger I ordered was mediocre in comparison — not quite the half-pounder stated on the menu. I’d venture to guess the patty was pre-formed by a major supplier, given the perfectly shaped disk it was.
The saving graces were the freshly sliced red onions and crisp shredded lettuce inside the toasted bun, as well as the accompanying french fries served hot and golden brown.
In that same visit, while seated at one of two tables inside the store, I tried the Greek salad, which was loaded into a large plastic container and filled deeply with fresh iceberg lettuce. Though generously adorned with creamy feta cheese, Kalamata olives, ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, I was left with vast amounts of lettuce after the garnishments had run their course.
Some nights later I ventured into more daring territory by phoning in a pickup order for a Philly cheesesteak and chicken wings. I had never purchased either from anyplace other than an established eatery or restaurant, let alone a neighborhood liquor store where you can’t see or smell food cooking except for the pizzas.
The cheesesteak was actually very good with its tender, chipped beef strewn with grilled green bell peppers and onions. Topped with melted mozzarella and served in a fluffy torpedo roll sporting toasted edges, it’s well worth the $6.99 price tag if you can live without Cheez Whiz and higher grades of meat used in establishments that specialize in the sandwich.
I requested the chicken wings extra crispy and they were cooked as such. The menu states they’re sold by the dozen. I only got 10, which was no big deal except for the fact they were over-sauced.
Had they been shaken in the Buffalo-style sauce instead of doused and served with sturdier blue cheese dressing, I’d have given them greater love.
Other menu choices include jalapeno poppers, lasagna, ravioli, and assorted hot and cold sandwiches such as Italian sausage, eggplant Parmesan, meatball, roast beef, pastrami and more, all at impressively reasonable prices.
Fiori’s also delivers within a 3-mile or so radius throughout Uptown.
And with valid ID, you can perk up your meal with booze brought right to your door from the store’s vast selection of spirits, wine and craft beer.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.