2601 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
From the outside, The Market Place looks like a convenience store four or five decades past its heyday. But, like other nearby fixtures Hobnob Hill and Nunu's, the place must have been doing something right all along to have left so much intact.
The deli counter takes up a fraction of the real estate inside The Market Place, but show up anywhere in the vicinity of lunch hour and just about everybody in there's got sandwiches on their mind. Or, as it turns out, pizza.
Headed up by the lovely and convivial Maye, the deli staff keeps turnaround brisk, making and serving orders so quickly, the line of customers quickly dissipates into a crowd of hungry hoverers, which shuffles and breaks so frequently it's tough to figure out where to stand from moment to moment.
I'd shown up anticipating a sandwich, and found the usual big board of California clubs and variations of pastrami at 5 to 6 bucks apiece. But a sandwich board special caught my eye. Maye's Melt, named for the kind lady behind the counter, features provolone over turkey, spinach and roasted red pepper on multi-grain. Maye, of course, offered nothing but encouragement for my order. She probably figured it would be enough for lunch on its own, but I was intrigued by the presence of pizza, and had to order a slice of sausage just to see how it stacked up.
But just as I did, another pie came out, topped by chorizo, cilantro, onions, queso fresco and – get this – salsa verde. This didn't show up on the menu or the specials board, or I'd have gravitated to it immediately. Without hesitation, I changed my order.
There's no place to sit, or even inviting enough to stand and eat — this is definitely a take out counter, and I sincerely hope all the working folk grabbing lunch here aren't too American to take it over to Balboa park a block away instead of going back to eat at their desks.
I'm too American, quickly rushing home to eat my lunch, then write about it. In doing so, the bread holding my sandwich together got soggy, despite being double wrapped in paper and aluminum foil. It didn't entirely ruin the thing, just made it more difficult to eat. And while I love turkey, spinach and red pepper in equal measures, I think the portions could have been better distributed on this special.
The pizza slice was another story. I'm kind of amazed I'd never encountered a tomatillo pizza sauce before (and no, I'd rather not know if California Pizza Kitchen offers this). The whole Mexican flavor profile served the pizza well, with well-cooked crust somewhere between thick and thin. I'd go back for it for sure, and just have to hope its available.