I have heard it repeatedly since I moved to LA; in fact, I had heard of it before I moved here (a scene from Entourage was filmed there, and it always stayed with me). The message was clear: I had to go to Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica, and I had to order the Godmother. Bay Cities’ has quite the reputation. The gist: they churn out old school Italian style sub sandwiches, and they are not screwing around. It is so packed around lunchtime that you can expect to wait up to an hour for your sandwich, and you better be ready to order when they call your number. Honestly, I was genuinely nervous. I was expecting to encounter a sandwich maker akin to the Soup Nazi, and that I would essentially have to fight my way through Times Square on New Years Eve just to get to the counter. This what I was imagining, but my understanding was that the sandwich would be worth the hassle. And I do love a good sandwich. I live only a couple miles away from this infamous establishment, so I had no excuse beside my own fear to not indulge in a delicious sandwich.
I knew what I was ordering long before I arrived: The Godmother. The Godmother is Bay Cities’ signature sandwich: a classic blend of Italian meats, topped with provolone cheese. The Godmother is stacked with Genoa Salami, Mortadella, Capicola, Ham, Prosciutto, Provolone, and no substitutions, layered on an Italian roll. I had a well-laid plan: I knew when I would go, where I would park, and what I would order. I would execute my plan with confidence, and the sandwich Gestapo would not shame me.
Not surprisingly, I had worked myself into an unnecessary frenzy. Bay Cities is indeed quite the old school establishment, but the experience was more than manageable. You take your number from the red plastic ticket dispenser, and then wait for your number to be called. While they do rattle them off quickly, they did accept a few orders from people who had missed their turn. This may not be the case at noon, but at 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, it apparently isn’t a problem. The men taking orders were polite and patient; I had no problem making a couple special requests. Their sandwiches come with The Works for an additional 35 cents, which consists of: mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, Italian dressing, and your choice of mild or hot pepper salad. I was able to specify Dijon mustard, no onion, and hot peppers without issue. In fact, all of the employees were gracious and kind, from the guys behind the counter to the cashier to the security guard. This is Santa Monica after all; I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the attitude is a little different than the Italian delis in the heart of Philadelphia. Also, I did not have to wait more than five minutes to order, granted it was three o’clock in the afternoon.
Once I received my paper-wrapped sandwich, I browsed the isles of the market. They have a wide variety of Italian goods, and a well-stocked Asian and Hispanic foods aisle. They carry about ten different types of sesame seed, and I certainly have not seen so many caper options in one store. They also have a selection of ready-made sandwiches, including cute, little prepackaged condiments so you can customize your Godmother on the go. After I had perused to my satisfaction, I paid for my sandwich and parked myself at one of the tables outside, with my neatly packaged sandwich, glowing in the Santa Monica sunshine.
Before I get carried away, I would like to highlight the fact that the sandwich pictured here is the small size. This size is more than a sufficient portion, and it’s a pretty good value, at less than seven dollars. I carefully unfolded the paper, and with one glance at the blistered, golden Italian roll, I knew that I would be happy with my lunch. Pulling the two halves a part, the view only improved: neatly layered meats and cheese; bits of cauliflower and carrots, accenting the hot pepper salad; shredded lettuce and juicy tomatoes. I took a bite, feeling my teeth cut through each layer of cured Italian meat. The interior of the sandwich was pleasingly cool, while the fresh bread was room temperature. The Godmother is a balanced sandwich, with a perfect ratio of bread to meat to cheese to toppings. It’s a saucy, messy sandwich, but it’s not one that you have to fight with. The ingredients don’t slide around excessively, as the bread is perfectly shaped for sandwich construction. At Bay Cities, they use Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, which happens to be my personal brand of choice when it comes to the deli counter. Boar’s Head products hail from the East coast, where they take sandwiches very seriously. I eat them all time, but I sort of expect a higher echelon of specialty deli meats at an Italian deli than the same thing that I buy at Ralph’s every week (for example, the Capicola at Dan’s Subs in Woodland Hills. Now that is something special: it’s tender, spicy, and sliced paper-thin, but not falling apart).
Nonetheless, I am going to give Bay Cities a rave review, and it mostly comes down to the bread, for it is truly something special. It is chewy and moist, with a crusty exterior that stands up to the richness of the sandwich, but it is not so crusty that it scrapes up the roof of your mouth. Take a gander at the bottom of that bread: porous, yet sturdy. It is also artfully assembled: the ingredients are layered in the perfect amounts, and in just the right order. The hot pepper salad packs a lot of heat, and adds nice crunch; juicy tomatoes and shredded lettuce cool it down a bit; salty pickles add garlic and more texture; creamy mayonnaise and Italian vinaigrette melds everything, dripping down my hand. Luckily, Bay Cities does not skimp on the napkins; it’s best to sit on them so they don’t blow away in the ocean breeze. This is the kind of sandwich that I only allow myself to eat once or twice a year because if I don’t put strict boundaries on my consumption, I might eat there twice a week.
November 1, 2014