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RESTAURANTS | Counter Intelligence

Fresh, the Armenian Deli Way

Take it out or sit it down in the no-nonsense interior of Pasadena's Foodland. The generous dishes go down the same: good and tasty.


The sign outside Foodland Deli says "restaurant," but it's really a market with two rows of Formica-topped tables running down the center and a few more by the windows. The ambience tends toward racks of bargain china; the plates and cutlery are plastic; newspapers and magazines clutter the tables. But along with ordinary lunch counter food, Foodland serves very good Armenian dishes.

And the tables aren't always so utilitarian. One day they sported ivory roses and a branch of flowering plum from the garden out front . . . stuck in jam jars.

The menu is posted over the counter. You order, pay and pick up the food there, whether you're eating on the premises or getting takeout. Everything in this Pasadena place is good, fresh and generous.

A rotisserie turns out succulent, golden-brown chicken, which is served with a heady garlic sauce. There are kebabs (lamb, beef, chicken--either in chunks or ground--and also pork and liver) with a bit of char that intensifies the flavor. They're either tucked into a pita sandwich or set on rice pilaf, smothered with onions and tomatoes and covered with a pita. Dense Armenian beef sausages are grilled too.

The pilaf plate allows a choice of salad or vegetable. Get the green beans in tomato sauce, if it's available. The beans are fresh and the sauce is spicy-hot. But the salad is good too: tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and feta with a strong dash of oregano. Falafel is available for vegetarians.

The deli makes its own stuffed grape leaves, with either a lamb or a vegetarian filling, and they must be very good--they've been sold out whenever I ordered them. (Takeout customers apparently buy them in large batches.) I could get the good kufta, egg-shaped meatballs consisting of fried beef or lamb in a shell of meat and bulgur pounded to a paste. They can boil, fry or grill your kufta.

A real standout is the creamy eggplant dip, baba ghannouj. The smoky flavor of the roasted eggplant combines in a wonderful way with the dash of red pepper and olive oil spooned into the center. If anything could top this, it might be the hummus. This often perfunctory dip of garbanzo beans and sesame seed paste has real character here, tasting very fresh and slightly spicy.

There are boxes of Armenian cookies and pastries from a bakery, but the best dessert is the deli's own baklava. It's crisp and flaky, stuffed with nuts and deeply aromatic with honey. You couldn't eat it without a demitasse of thick, black Armenian coffee. This is poured from a long-handled Middle Eastern coffee pot into floral-printed demitasse cups (china cups, in this case, not plastic).

It's just possible to get dinner here, because the place is open until 8 p.m., but if you're stopping by after work, you'd probably rather take the food home.

A New Take on Breakfast

Breakfast, on the other hand, is well worth a lingering visit. There are ordinary egg, toast and hash brown combos, but also Armenian dishes that give a new take on breakfast. Try scrambled eggs with bastirma, the Armenian cured beef. It's cut into thin slices, stirred into scrambled eggs and served with sliced potatoes fried nicely brown.

What the menu calls Armenian hot cereal is boiled semolina; it will remind you of Cream of Wheat, except that it's been sprinkled with cinnamon and finished off with a blob of melting butter. For a real change of pace, order ful--boiled fava beans with a light dash of hot seasoning. A pita bread comes on the side.

You can also have Armenian sausage for breakfast, and some of that excellent baklava might be on hand. Fresh squeezed juices are available as well as tahn, yogurt whirled in the blender to beverage consistency.

Foodland Deli is a family business. Owner Hagop Chaparian has been in this same spot for 23 years. His wife, Knarik, makes the grape leaves, kufta, baklava and other dishes. Check the printed menu for additional items that aren't necessarily on hand but can be ordered, such as kebabs of eggplant alternated with meat.

The Chaparians do a lot of catering, and a function room for groups opens into the deli. A group can be as small as 10, if you want to assemble some friends to sample this interesting food.


Foodland Deli, 1616 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 798-9656. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Sunday by advance arrangement for groups of 25 or more. No alcohol. Street and lot parking. All major credit cards. Takeout. Catering. Dinner for two, food only, $9 to $15.

What to Get: kebab plates, rotisserie chicken, baba ghannouj, hummus, bastirma with eggs, Armenian hot cereal, baklava.

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