The Chronicler of Sams

Of all the epicurean delights that can be found in our fair city, few are as under-appreciated as the humble deli sandwich.

International variations get all the hype, such as the exotic bánh mì (best found at the deeply authentic Thuận Phát, 3020 Santa Rosa Avenue) or the hearty torta (best found at the OG orange taco truck, Delicias Elenita, 816 Sebastopol Rd). Less attention is given to that lunchtime staple, the classic American cold sub, but that’s about to change. Let’s talk about sams.

With a limited palette of cold cuts, mayo, mustard, veggies and bread, a masterfully built sandwich is designed to delight the palate and not break the bank. There are plenty of fancy sandwiches that are worth the extra dough, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the blue collar sando. Lunch for under ten bucks is still alive and well in our city. So let’s get to it: here are the five best deli sandwich spots in old Saint Rose.

Lazzini’s Market (3449 Bennett Valley Rd) is a family-owned deli that has been receiving some well-deserved love from the community in the five years since they opened. The market is stocked with craft beer and Old World specialties for a picnic in nearby Galvin Park, and their hoagies are heavenly. Every signature sandwich on the board is a good choice, but the Italian Stallion, a classic sub loaded with salami and mortadella, is an offer that cannot be refused by true sando connoisseurs.

Mac’s Deli and Cafe (630 4th St) is possibly the most beloved restaurant in Santa Rosa, and for good reason. The Soltani family makes delicious food and offer exemplary service. This is not a grab-and-go deli; rather, it’s a classic diner, a community gathering place where you’ll find suit-and-tie business people dining alongside plumbers, punk rockers, and Santa Rosans of every stripe and color. Their hot pastrami with slaw on an onion roll is about as timelessly delicious as it gets.

Perry’s Delicatessen (1220 Mendocino Ave), right across from historic Santa Rosa High School, is a local treasure. Their signature hot sams are all very good, but when a Panther wants a classic ham and cheddar or turkey and swiss, Perry’s is the only place that will do it right.

Canevari’s Deli (695 Lewis Rd) is a classic purveyor of Italian-American delicacies, specializing in house-made ravioli and lasagne like mama used to make. The little building, open since Santa Rosa was little more than a few walnut orchards, also happens to turn out some scrumptious sandos. Try the California, which is essentially a BLT with Swiss on rye.

9th St Market (766 Wilson St)/Sam’s Market (212 E St)/Dave’s Market (320 West 3rd St). These three liquor store delis received honorable mentions for their honest, straightforward sandwiches for working folks. Don’t expect heirloom tomatoes or artisanally cured meats; instead, you can count on getting a good, filling lunch for around five bucks.

There are plenty of other great options out there in SR. Check out #samchron on Instagram for a more comprehensive list of wicked ‘wiches, and if you have a favorite, please join in with the #samchron tag.

Shop Locally, Eat Globally

Visiting ethnic markets for the first time is a little like traveling. You never quite know what to expect.

The store fronts are always easy to pass by, plain and unassuming, but once you enter the stores, you are surrounded by bright colors, smells, and sights different from that of your standard grocery store. While our standard supermarkets all have an ethnic aisle, and its easy to get the basics, there is nothing quite like adventuring into one of Santa Rosa’s Mexican or Asian markets to seek the harder to find ingredients.

I haven’t had many opportunities to travel, but I love eating and cooking meals from different cuisines. And how lucky we are to live in such an culturally diverse community where we have easy access to foods from all over the world; both in restaurants and ethnic markets that cater to the people of those cultures and to those wanting to cook with authentic ingredients.

Asia Mart on Guerneville Road is one of the places I make frequent stops at. It's my go-to source for fresh rice noodles or lop chong sausage, as well as the basics like soba noodles, coconut milk, soy and Sriracha sauce. As the largest Asian ethnic market in Santa Rosa, they cater to a wide range of Asian populations, including Indian. I like their well-stocked aisle of sakes and the selection of oils and medicines I’m familiar with from my acupuncturist's office. I almost always leave with a package of Banh Cam, fried sesame balls with mung mean paste, that they perch on the corner of the check out counter.

MeKong Market, on Sebastopol Road, is much smaller and specializes in Vietnamese ingredients. When I was last there and talking with the friendly staff, she told me that they also cater to the Fijian and Islander population of Santa Rosa. MeKong has a fresh meat and fish counter, and it’s always interesting to see what types of cuts people are picking out.

Their produce selection is the best of all the Asian markets, filled with exotic-to-me ingredients like fresh banana flowers and taro leaves, but also staples like cilantro, ginger and onions at a great price. Around the Lunar New Year, I try to catch a Banh Tet, or Moon Cake, during its limited 2 week production; a delicious and unique rice, mung bean and pork filling that’s wrapped in a banana leaf.

Even if I know exactly what I’m going in for, I love to wander the aisles and look at the things I’m unfamiliar with. How exactly is sorghum used? What do fresh banana flowers taste like? What exactly is in this package with writing I can’t read? Do the chickens with black skin taste any different? Even if you don’t need anything, it’s always a fun shopping trip that warrants a bit of exploration. Ethnic markets are also a great place to stock up on cookwares, fuel for warming trays, or incense and trinkets for alters.

The SoCo Meat Co.

I first met Rian Rinn about 10 years ago, when we were both living in Healdsburg. I had my first place (and therefore a kitchen) without roommates, and was just learning to cook. Rian was peddling meat out of his garage in an ad-hoc CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I’d come home with random cuts every week or so, and then search my cookbooks and troll the internet on how to use this new-to-me piece of meat.

Just like my cooking, Rian’s meat providing has evolved over the years. Today, along with his partner Jenine, they run the Sonoma County Meat Company. This custom butcher shop, located at 35 Sebastopol Ave. in Santa Rosa, opened in Spring of 2014. Since then, they have been serving the people of Santa Rosa and surrounding communities with high-quality, locally raised and sustainable meats.

sonoma county meat company

I regularly turn to SCMC for whole chickens, assorted cuts of beef, rabbit, sausages and bacon. They do their own smoking and make their own sausage, and there is always a new flavor of something to try. The staff is always friendly and happy to cut something smaller, or piece out my chicken for me. I like asking for recommendations on how to use a particular cut I’m not familiar with. If they don’t have what you’re looking for in their case, make sure to ask if they have it in the back. If not, they are always happy to make a suggestion for something similar.

img_6686One thing that I love about the Meat Co is that they don’t shy away from nose to tail. If you’re looking for a head to make headcheese or blood to make blood sausage, or fat to render for lard, they won’t give you a blank stare and think you came from crazy-town. Try asking for something like that at Safeway. I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to make headcheese, but it’s on my list of culinary experiments, and I am glad to know where I can source such a thing.

In addition to providing meat for retail customers like me, people can bring in their livestock and game for processing. They are the county’s only USDA inspected facility, making it possible for small farms and ranches to have their animals processed and packaged for sale at their own farms. They also offer a meat CSA, providing customers a monthly allotment of locally sourced meats.


Make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for notifications of sales, classes and events. When you visit, check out the collection of knives on the wall, all procured from customers over the years in exchange for sausage. My vintage curved butcher’s knife is down there on bottom row.

There are plenty of places to visit them online, too.

Farm to Fermentation Festival

For the past 6 years, on a weekend in August, Santa Rosa has been the convening point of people all over to talk about, to learn about and to try, fermented foods.


This past weekend was that time, and purveyors and lovers of all things fermented gathered to celebrate this ancient method of food preservation at the Farm to Fermentation Festival. I got a crash course in fermentation when attended a few years ago, which I wrote about here and this year was just as enjoyable.


This year, I attended two of the many lectures offered. I learned about how to make yogurt from Janet Fletcher, local author of several books including her new book, Yogurt. I was surprised at how easy the process was- heat milk, add a bit of yogurt, and then rest at a certain temperature for a given length of time.


In Lynda LeMole’s lecture “Fermented Medicine,” I learned more about the health benefits of fermented foods and how they interact with our bodies. She demonstrated how to make Fire Cider, and explained the dizzyingly long list of its benefits, ranging from being an anti-inflammatory to helping nausea. We all tried a sample of it, which burned my throat but I could easily see how it would kill any germs or illness. I was excited to take the recipe and make a batch myself at home.


After leaving Lynda’s lecture, I sought out my husband, who was in the Libation Lounge. I’m not a big drinker, but he had already tried all the samples of beer and cider, and directed me to the ones he thought I’d like the best (so thoughtful, right?). I really enjoyed a strawberry saison from Woodfour and a pour Moonlight Brewing that was made with redwood instead of hops.


Back in the vendor hall, we checked out samples of all things fermented- from cheese to pickles to bread to chocolate. I was excited that there were samples of natto, fermented soybeans that are very traditional in Japan. I had heard some horror stores about the dish, but wanted to try it. I found them quite delicious, and much different from other ferments like pickles or sauerkraut.


The chocolate samples were of course very popular, both from companies Firefly and Cacoco. I really liked trying 4 different types of drinking chocolates, and came home with a box of Cacoco’s ‘Original’ to make some of my own at home.
Make sure to keep an eye on the Farm to Fermentation website for next year’s date, or follow them on Instagram at @farm2ferment- it’s an event not to be missed!