By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
After a friend raved about a few sandwiches she recently purchased from The Market Place for a small beach gathering, I began recalling eating one from there some 25 years ago. The fact I couldn’t remember what type of sandwich it was, or whether I even liked it, was probably the reason I never went back.
Then recently I read the online reviews, which sing praises to the liquor store’s deli. Within a matter of days, I pulled into The Market Place’s scrunched parking lot and left with a day’s worth of food that carried me through lunch and dinner.
And boy, was it good.
The store has been around since the early 1970s, and always with a sandwich counter. Although it wasn’t until 2000 that co-owner David Brown installed a full kitchen, which resulted in the availability of soups, grilled sandwiches, pizzas, meatballs and more — all made in-house.
Brown’s father-in-law, John (Tex) Teixeira, took over the business in 1985 from the unknown original owner. He’s now a retired partner. Today Brown oversees the busy deli and a surrounding inventory of foodstuffs, spirits and nearly 300 different types of wines, mostly from California.
Just inside the entrance are refrigerated cases stocked with attractive grab-and-go salads, as well as packaged pasta meals, potato salad, hummus, fresh-cut fruit … you name it. Compared to the many liquor stores throughout Uptown, this is a foodie’s paradise.
The sandwiches are remarkably inexpensive. Only two of them exceed $8 by a notch — the Philly cheesesteak (with beef or chicken), and the Beefeater containing a trifecta of pastrami, roast beef and corned beef crowned with Swiss cheese.
I placed my order in-person around 11:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, choosing two soups, a 12-inch pepperoni pizza, an albacore tuna melt, and a corned beef Reuben. Within 10 minutes, customers began pouring in to queue up at the deli’s order counter.
Brown runs a tight ship, making sure his cooks and sandwich makers stand fully prepared to handle the daily rush. In the absence of tables, customers tote the food to their homes, offices or favorite picnic spots. (Balboa Park is a block away.) Nobody is left waiting too long.
Both soups were full of soul. The split pea offered a smooth, thick consistency with hints of smoked ham. And the lemon-chicken orzo brimmed with carrots, celery and wilted greens, possibly escarole. Neither was fraught with sodium.
The tuna melt on sourdough had the right amount of mayo in the tuna, not so much that it caused everything to slip-slide apart. Better yet, the buttery, grilled bread wasn’t overly greasy. The spin, which also appeared in the Reuben, was the addition of finely chopped pickles tucked inside — just enough to impart a catchy tang.
If you’re a stickler for thinly sliced corned beef, The Market Place’s Reuben has you covered. The meat was fluffy and tender, and with a slightly higher ratio of beef to bread that was neither skimpy or obnoxiously extravagant. You’re given a choice of mustard or Thousand Island dressing. With tart sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese classically draping the meat, the sweetness from the latter is the way to go — always. Keep the mustard away, please.
Brown sources his breads from La Jolla Baking Co. and Hillcrest-based Bread & Cie. The wide selection — delivered fresh daily — includes Dutch crunch, squaw, white, multi-grain, wheat, marbled rye, ciabatta and French rolls.
Just as I read in the online reviews, the pizzas come with double doses of cheese compared to everywhere else. So if you’re not into thick, gooey mantles of mozzarella, you best request a lighter touch. And if you’re hell-bent on thin crust, these medium-thick pies will set off your carb alarm.
I didn’t mind the heavy payload of cheese. And I especially liked the dusting of cornmeal on the crust’s underbelly. Admittedly, the pizza needed a stint in my oven to re-melt the cheese and crisp up the crust after sitting untouched for about 30 minutes before I could finally dig in.
Other made-to-order choices include a third-pound “gourmet burger” with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions and “messy sauce,” plus barbecue pulled pork submarine sandwiches using pork shoulder that’s roasted in-house; chicken Parmesan on a French roll; various breakfast burritos (served until 11:30 a.m.), and more.
Who knew that making a trip to the corner liquor store for a bottle of gin and a Lotto ticket could result in coming away with meals of restaurant quality? Apparently a lot of people do and have beaten me to the chase.
—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 email@example.com.