Within walking distance of the high tide line in the beach town of Santa Monica in California are some of the most exciting and unusual ethnic food markets and delicatessens this eclectic country has to offer. Whether you have a craving for anchovies or a yen for zabaglione, you can find it all in this culturally diverse enclave.
German, Dutch, Swedish
Shoop’s Delicatessen Gourmet & European Market
2400 Main Street, Santa Monica
With Matt Shoop officiating behind the deli counter and his wife counseling customers in the market, this place has the crackle and energy of a power station. The Shoops specialize in German and Dutch grocery items with some Swedish products on hand for good measure. When Swedish clients made special requests, Shoop found himself ordering wheels of Swedish cheeses the size of big rig tires. “A normal piece for them is 2 or 3 pounds at a time,” he points out. The Shoop’s knowledge of European provisions is deep and passionate. For example, just a few different brands of German mustard would probably suffice, but just look at the dizzying array available on their shelves. You will also find a selection of German language newspapers, cookies, biscuits and European candies.
On a recent visit, the delicatessen was doing a brisk business in Matt’s hand-crafted sweet and sour cabbage soup of the day in spite of the 80-degree heat outside (it’s that good) and his wife was offering a sort of undergraduate couse in pumpernickel bread to an appreciative customer. “This kind is better for parties,” she advised. The delicatessen is open for breakfast and lunch and serves dishes as light as “1 German weiner and a cup of soup” to a prospect known as “The Clevelander” which is described as “a sandwich with a serious attitude; hot lean corned beef, baby swiss, choice of sauerkraut or coleslaw, Russian dressing, spicy mustard and horseradish.” (Price is $7.75.) Of course, you can get German potato salad with that.
Before he opened this location about 5 years ago, Matt Shoop had been personal chef to Mohammad Ali and had run 4 restaurants. He loves preparing and sharing good foods the way Bret Favre loves playing football. His all-embracing philosophy is found in the motto on his menu: “We’re all in this world together.”
1207 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
This beautiful little delicatessen, market and gift shop serves Ukrainians, Russians and Armenians from all over the area. A small but carefully selected assortment ranging from tinned delicacies to boxed chocolates adorn the shelves. Most products are labeled at the source, so if you don’t read Russian, you may have to ask what’s what. They have borscht, pirogi and caviar. Behind the counter are souvenirs and gifts from the home country, such as hand painted nesting dolls, procured by owner Olga Tseryasina. The delicatessen cases contain a full assortment of cheeses, salt cod and sausages sold in servings to suit your needs. Just grab your balalaika and you’ve got all the makings of a great picnic.
Italian, Greek, Argentine, Middle Eastern
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica
The name of this market is only part of the story. The sign out front says you will find not only Italian, but also Greek, Argentine and Middle Eastern foods. It doesn’t end there. On a recent visit, a customer said, “I’m looking for Scandanavian flat bread,” and he was immediately ushered to some section of the store that apparently had such a thing. It goes even further. If you are in need of, say, a 24 ounce tin of pure goose fat from France, you can find it here. Let’s just say the place is inclusive.
The shelves contain not just a few, but dozens of varieties of sardines prepared every which way. There is a veritable Disneyland of vinegars, with the Tiffany-like blends under lock and key. There is enough olive oil to fill the Exxon Valdez. You can get a 4 ounce tin of stuffed squid in ink sauce for under $3.00. Seemingly every hot sauce ever made is here, from “Ass In Space” to the lethal “Pure Cap” which is 2 ounces of capsaicin sold in an eye dropper for about $11.00 but should be available by prescription only. On any given day, there are 24 different types of fresh olives on display in pretty dishes and 16 different types of bottled and tinned capers from every country that sees the sun. Bay Cities also has a full wine shop featuring blends that can stand up to their food.
The delicatessen is always crowded. Be prepared to take a number and wait. They need a traffic cop to take care of the constant flow. There are daily specials, like BBQ beef hoagie or eggplant parmigiana on Thursdays, or perennials like the “Godmother” sandwich containing Genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto and provolone cheese. (Priced at $5.60 for the small and $7.30 for the large.) And no substitutions. Don’t even ask. Don’t expect the warmth of the Shoop’s personalities here. But do expect 24 types of olives.