Across Soquel Drive from the old drive-in, Mel's Market and Deli sits ready and waiting to fuel treasure hunters and those awaiting patients at Sutter Surgery Center. The miniature market is stocked with almost every chilled beverage imaginable, as well as basic necessities for the kitchens of its surrounding neighborhoods. It looks tiny from the street, but the deli extends out behind an adjacent house, with a suitable amount of indoor seating. There are also a few tables in front, and two more in the back, where you might find neighbors chatting over lunch or offering snacks to the giant, furry, red dog Blue.
The Deviled Eggs ($1.25), their seasoned yolks flecked with paprika, were velvety without excessive mayonnaise.
A cup of Mel's Potato Salad ($1.75), also not overdressed, was filled with crisp celery, hard boiled eggs, and potatoes that maintained a sense of structure. Other salads include Club, Chef and Caesar ($3.95), Pasta Verde and Macaroni ($1.75), all freshly packaged and ready to run.
Sandwiches ($4.50 to $5.50) are made with bread fresh from Soquel's Aldo's Bakery, or wrapped in tortillas. Mel's staff makes Panini ($5.50) like the sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickle and pepperoncini peppers. I chose Aldo's dark, oat-crusted Squaw bread with pastrami and Swiss cheese. The slices of bread were huge and soft, stuffed with ingredients, and then pressed until crisp. Nutty cheese melted onto the thin, smoky, lean slices of cured meat.
Although made off-site, the spiced layered carrot cake ($3), with plump raisins and crisp walnuts, appeared homemade. It was iced with plenty of sweet cream cheese frosting.
Mel, as in Melissa Brownell, makes a mean batch of fudge as well. The sweet one-inch square with soft bits of suspended chocolate was the perfect finale. | KP
Mel's Market and Deli, 2425 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz, 464-1054. Beer and wine. Open daily 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.
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