Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tony and his Deli

Earlier I mentioned that a local Moab restaurant served what I considered to be “corporate” food. By that I mean a menu that has been researched and “focus-grouped” to be all things to all people. The exact opposite is Pantele’s Desert Deli, a small salad and sandwich place open Monday to Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. But what the owner Tony Pantele does, he does extremely well, as can be confirmed by the fact that the day we were there every table was full and two out of three orders were for takeout. The restaurant appeared to be staffed by Tony, two young women making salads and sandwiches, and a young man working in the prep kitchen.

A number of his sandwiches are vegetarian (but not vegan), and I was tempted by the Center Street (the deli is on Center Street) Veggie – toasted sourdough with jalapeno cream cheese, sliced tomato, red onion, green pepper, banana peppers, and sprouts. But I decided that I could approximate this at home, so instead, I ordered the Mediterranean – toasted harvest bread with hummus, roasted eggplant, roasted zucchini, roasted red pepper, and feta cheese.

This was a wise choice. The contrast between the sharp and salty feta and the smoky tasting eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper made for an exciting combination.

I thought that Chuck would go with the French Dip, but he surprised me and ordered Mom’s Meatloaf Sandwich – sliced cold meatloaf on white sourdough with shredded lettuce, green bell peppers, onions, and spicy mustard sauce. This was a large and masterful sandwich. The ground beef was mixed with sausage, onion, and garlic and was packed with flavor.

Tony asked Chuck how he liked the meatloaf and told us that one of the two sandwich preparers makes the meatloaf from his mother's recipe. We asked in unison “I thought Mom makes this!” At this point he admitted that his staff person is a better cook than his mother.

Pantele’s serves one of the best non-burger sandwiches we have had in quite some time, and we give it a score of 4.0 Addies.

We returned two days later to talk to Tony about our meal. We learned that he was from Detroit by way of California and had worked in several clubs. Presently, he is interested in consulting with future restaurant owners about restaurant concept and menu planning. His welcoming manner and interest in bantering with customers while taking orders were clear signs that his emphasis on creating a welcoming atmosphere where high quality food is served has been quite successful.

We had noticed a framed gold record on the wall and hypothesized that Tony was a former musician who had given up the music world to start a restaurant. No, it was a Frank Sinatra gold record that one of the clubs had given him. That may explain the reason for the Sinatra recordings played throughout lunch.

Return Engagements…

You didn’t think we would leave Moab without one more stop at Milt’s Stop & Eat, did you? Of course not. We had a late lunch, and the outside tables were again packed, so it was back to the counter. Chuck had a single cheeseburger (with onion) and the “Chicago” Style Dog, a quarter pound all beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun with mustard, onion, relish, and jalapeño peppers. In keeping with Chicago tradition, no ketchup was offered or served.

But behold the ultimate double mushroom swiss burger – one of the finest examples of the flattop art. What makes this a transcendent mushroom burger? The mushrooms never saw the inside of a can. Sautéed in house to a caramelized finish and heaped to overflowing on the double patties, this was a 5.0 Addie burger.

And, on our final day in Moab, we headed back to Pasta Jay’s planning on thin crust pizza. Once we sat down, we both realized that we wanted something more than pizza, more than a burger, more than a sandwich. So, given that the restaurant is called Pasta Jay’s, we both ordered pasta. What a smart move.

Chuck ordered the Alfredo Williams, a breaded and baked, thin-pounded chicken breast served over fettucine and covered with Alfredo sauce. Chuck is not a big parmesan cheese fan, so to his delight the Alfredo sauce was light on the cheese with just enough of the sharp salty flavor present to reduce the richness of the cheese sauce. The kitchen managed to give the chicken a crunchy exterior without drying out the interior and the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente.

I chose the Pasta a la Genovese with shrimp. This was a huge portion of al dente penne with shrimp, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms in a spicy basil tomato sauce. Too often I have ordered seafood pasta and have found that the seafood has been overcooked. Not so these shrimp. While cooked, they still retained that crispness that almost snaps when you bite into one.

So, while we gave Pasta Jay’s 4.0 for their pizza, they rate a 4.5 for the pasta. (By the way, I forgot to mention that the weather was gorgeous, and we again ate outside on the patio.)

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