"Best Deli Sandwich,"
says Monterey County Weekly
“Whomever coined the term “enough food to feed an army” likely served a stretch up the hill at DLI, near Compagno’s Deli. Longtime sandwich man Bennet Compagno has been powering our forces with his special sandos (and fraternal handshakes) for decades now, and his deli has become a major provider of food and community for generations of local soldiers and citizens alike. Massive and tasty, each sandwich is easily enough for two meals. A full deli case invites those looking for salads and other lighter fare (the broccoli salad should have its own Facebook page), or, for the truly brave, buck up and take on an anvil-sized slab of high-ranking chocolate cake.”
Bennett Compagno keeps the troops
and Upper New Monterey neighbors well fed.
Fresh sandwiches, addictive chips (like avocado chips, and Louisiana’s seafood-flavored Crawtators), hard-to-find sodas (like Moxie and Brazil’s Bawls), fantasy cakes (like Oreo Black Forest) and beers from around the world have kept neighborhood regulars and Defense Language Institute students streaming through the doors of Compagno’s Market and Deli on Prescott Avenue for over 40 years.
Owner Bennett Compagno, who took over the business from his father eight years ago, calls most of his customers by their first names and usually knows what sandwiches they prefer. He enjoys meeting people from all over the country and tries to stock the foods they crave from their hometowns.
Compagno says former customers write and ask him to mail sandwiches. I can understand their cravings; I have been eating Compagno’s sandwiches for the past five years. I love them. But I wanted to see what my husband Laurent, who usually won’t eat sandwiches, would think of the offerings from Compagno’s, so I organized a sandwich and beer tasting at my house for him and our friend Clark.
I chose my favorite sandwich—and the best selling one at the market—#27: a Sicilian breaded chicken breast with avocado, bacon and melted mozzarella; a chicken salad sandwich; and a turkey with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
Compagno’s sandwiches are about eight inches long, and they’re wide and fat, so those with ordinary appetites might want to consider the half-sized versions. I ordered all three sandwiches on Flat French bread with sesame seeds. Compagno’s also offers ciabatta, sourdough, wheat, and marbled rye. Normally when I get my #27, I go to Asilomar Beach to watch the waves while I eat.
Compagno’s bake the chicken every day (as they do their roast beef), and it’s always nice and moist. Laurent, Clark, and my daughter Florence all liked this sandwich, and the bite-size pieces I made quickly disappeared from the tray.
The chicken salad sandwich didn’t go as fast. That just left more of this delicious salad—which is laced with a slightly sweet mayonnaise and mixed with mandarin orange slices, sweet red grapes, and slivered almonds—for me. I like sweet and savory combinations that do not appeal to everyone.
I bought the turkey sandwich mostly for my daughter. The turkey was moist and not too salty. Compagno’s gets a lot of business, ensuring fast turnover of ingredients, leaving them no time to wilt or dry up. Laurent and Clark liked this sandwich, but hunted for the #27.
We had to extend our beer tasting over several days, because the first two we sampled, Duvel from Belgium and Erdinger from Germany contained more kick than we expected. The Singha from Thailand would have to wait.
Beer expert Michael Jackson devotes three pages to Duvel in his Beer Companion. The name is Flemish for “devil,” perhaps reflecting its 8.5 percent alcohol content. The golden ale comes with a cork you have to pop like a bottle of champagne, which makes it seem festive. Laurent and Clark both said it was the best beer they had ever tasted, echoing Compagno’s unsolicited remark when I bought it. The bottle’s label admonishes its drinkers: “Enjoy chilled with discerning friends or good-looking strangers.”
I thought the dark Erdinger wheat beer tasted especially good with the chicken salad sandwich. Erdinger, located outside Munich, is the world’s largest producer of Hefe-Weizen. I always feel like I am drinking cake when I drink wheat beers. Their sweetness appeals to me and it is fun to turn the bottle on its side and watch the sediments drift down. Clark suggested we not open the other beers after sampling this concoction.
I like Singha, a malt liquor, because it is a thirst-quencher like Corona, making it perfect as an accompaniment to spicy foods. Laurent and Clark like more body in their beer. The Famosa, a lager, has a slightly bitter flavor at first that grows on you.
I asked Bennet how he became interested in international beers when I interviewed him a few days later. He said DLI students requested the beers. He began with Russian beers and now has brands from every continent. His personal favorites are Duvel, EFES from Turkey, and Zwiec from Poland.
When he found out that I was doing a review he insisted that I try his broccoli salad made with a sweet mayonnaise, bacon, raisins, grapes, and sunflower seeds. I had to agree that it was great and thought that it pays to snoop around Compagno’s for good eats.