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Small Wonders: The meaning of life, Italian-style

May 25, 2012|By Patrick Caneday

The day was perfect. A late-July afternoon in mid-May. Happy children playing happily with friends on the block, defining what Saturdays are all about. The sun descending behind shade trees, but promising to keep daylight around a few more hours.

So I sent out the call to the neighbors:

“DOTL”

Texted it, actually. Feel free to guess what it means. On our block it’s the Batman light in the night sky — a call to action.

Minutes later I'm at Monte Carlo Deli, the closest Burbank has to Mario's Deli in Glendale. Please don't ask me to choose between the Italian deli of my hometown versus the one in my adopted town. It would only lead to broken hearts. Mostly mine.

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You know a store is good when you have to take a number from the old-school ticket dispenser and wait your turn. Fish King has one too. 'Nuf said — 20 grown-ups clutching shards of numbered paper like winning lottery tickets, afraid to look away from the lighted number above our heads, but mesmerized by the delicacies in the case before us. Buzz!

“No. 84?”

I'm in.

“I'll have a quarter pound of imported prosciutto to start,” I tell the sommelier of small bites.

She pulls from the case a 10-pound cured ham hock that's been pampered by chaste monks under vows of silence in Parma, Italy, for the last 18 months, and begins slicing.

“I want to be able to see through each slice,” I warn her. She nods and adjusts.

I can see I’m making her nervous, so I wander off to peruse other delights. There's a tray of marinated black olives with herbs and cubes of cheese.

“What kind of cheese is in that?” I ask an attendant of antipasti.

“Feta,” he says as he lovingly caresses the olives with a long spoon. “It's very good.”

His eyes close a little, as if holding back a dream he wants so badly to fall into.

“I'll take a half pint of that, my friend.”

He approves, knowing these morsels will be rightly appreciated.

A nice, dry salametti, some vibrant red roasted bell peppers in olive oil and a quarter pint of the spicy, marinated artichoke hearts. Yes, that's it. But don't forget the cheese!

“How's the Los Cameros?” I ask. My mistress pulls the half-wheel, milky white flesh and ashen, dusty, intense rind, from the case as another clerk watches over.

If Monte Carlo had a cheesemonger, it'd be this guy.

“That's new,” he says.

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