THE LONG & WINE-ING ROAD
AIOLI – a Gourmet Delicatessen
Richard, Bob and I left the Woodenhead tasting room and headed for Aioli, a gourmet deli in the nearby town of Forestville that was recommended by the winery’s “bar”tender. We were hungry from our 'rigorous' afternoon of fine wine tasting and were looking forward to a thick corned beef & swiss w/ Russian dressing on rye, or maybe real (not packaged or pressed) turkey & swiss on rye, slathered w/ that Russian dressing, both favorites of mine at the Stage Deli in Manhattan and Jerry’s in LA. Boy, were we in for a surprise!
We drove up Front Street and found the store ‘front’ that was Aioli. This is an unimposing, tiny little deli, w/ a couple of tables out front, a small glass display ‘case’ inside hosting a few housemade “take home” deli offerings, a small bistro table w/ two chairs and a tiny counter w/ 3-4 stools in front of an open “kitchen” which reminded me of a lunch-counter kitchen. We were ‘under’whelmed. But we soon got over that.
When we walked in the place was empty, but after a moment the young chef, Autumn Opitz, came out from “the back” to greet us (though the place is so small, I wondered if there was a “back” to the “front”). Turned out she’s also the owner, along w/ her husband, Nicolas (another chef) who was home babysitting.
She handed us menus as we perched on the stools and told her we’d just come from Woodenhead. Coincidentally, she had just uncorked a Woodenhead red and we decided to join her for a glass. You really can’t be too rich, too thin or have too much fine wine!
As we glanced at the menu, we realized that this was not your everyday “Jewish” deli or your everyday “German” deli or your everyday “Main Street (or in this case, Front Street)” deli, but something quite different. Something “gourmet.”
Yes, it had your ham & cheese sandwich, but Aioli’s was not your ‘traditional’ ham & cheese sandwich, but a ham and brie panini w/ Dijon mustard, caramelized onions and arugula on sourdough. Yum. And, yes, it had a Reuben sandwich, a deli staple, but this Reuben was made with thinly sliced housemade corned beef (not pastrami), sauerkraut, 1000 island aioli dressing, w/ swiss on rye. Double yum. The chicken sandwich was walnut chicken and gala apple w/ lettuce and tarragon aioli on multigrain bread. Triple yum. My mouth was watering… then my eye caught the housemade pulled pork sandwich w/ bbq sauce, housemade slaw on a seeded bun… then the veggie panini, the eggplant panini and the cheese steak and Greek sandwiches. What to choose? I sipped some wine as I pondered my decision.
What caught Richard’s eye at the bottom of the page was “Housemade Duck Confit.” Why a duck? Well, one of Richard’s favorite meals evah was a duck confit entrée in a multi-star, multi-priced restaurant in Florence, Italy. He looked at Autumn wondering if this young chef was up to the task. He decided he’d take the chance. And when she told us that one of her specialties was her crab cakes when crab was in season, Bob and I threw caution to the wind and decided no matter how wonderful the sandwiches sounded, it was crab cakes for us. We are New York/New Englanders after all.
Speaking of New England, while Autumn cooked our dinners, we learned that both she and her husband are graduates of the Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont and that they are their only employees. Consequently, these young entrepreneurs alternate their parenting chores at home and running/cooking at the deli. This was truly a “mom and pop” enterprise.
Our suppers in front of us, we dug in. Bob and I were immediately sent to seventh heaven or eighth or ninth… maybe even tenth. The crab cakes served on a bed of organic greens and golden beets w/ a pesto aioli truly sent us to a food galaxy far, far away… super fresh w/ no discernible fillers, these cakes were that good.
(OK, OK - I took a bite before I took the picture... a big bite)
We looked over at Richard who was totally ignoring us as he quietly savored every bite of his slow-roasted duck confit w/ crispy skin and tender, succulent meat on a bed of frisee and gala apple w/ a pomegranate balsamic drizzle. He reluctantly gave me a taste. It’s dishes like this that answer that age old question, “Why a duck?” This is why!
The sun was setting when we finally left Autumn w/ a spring in our steps and headed back to the condo… But not before realizing we had met a true ‘artiste.’
So guys, if you find yourself somewhere in Sonoma, make a bee-line to Forestville… eating there is a true gourmet delight. A real “food find.”
6536 Front Street
Forestville, CA 95436
A PS – If you have kids, not to fret – there’s a kids' menu – grilled cheese, hot dogs, peanut butter & jelly, even a ‘design your own sandwich’ option. The Opitzs are young parents after all.
However, if you’re giving a dinner party in the area, Autumn and Nicolas also do catering… The selections are amazing. Check ‘em out at: www.gourmetaioli.com