The value of a windowed storefront in downtown Chico is—pardon the pun—clear, to business owners and patrons alike. This is especially true for eateries, as it offers built-in curb appeal and a natural sense of atmosphere, creating a scene where diners can either appreciate the city center’s Valley-town charm at face value or maybe imagine themselves transported to some other more metropolitan locale, at least for the duration of a meal.
I recently developed a new appreciation for these wide open views, as Chico and the whole of California was being repeatedly pounded by a series of storms with cool-sounding names—atmospheric river, Pineapple Express, bomb cyclone—throughout the month of March.
In search of sustenance and shelter, my dining companion and I were practically blown through the front doors of D’Emilios Bakery & Delicatessen. Inside, we were greeted by the comforting smell of fresh-baked bread and spiced Italian meats. After we ordered, we took a seat by the window to watch as the storm buffeted downtown and befuddled be-sopped passersby. Ah, what a view.
D’Emilios sits in the space long-occupied by Kona’s Sandwiches, but was taken over by new owner Kaelen Davis last year. He operated it under that name for a few months before transitioning to the new deli last September. The interior has been updated nicely, with red tables and overall Italian flair. He said the space was under-appreciated and neglected for years, and a lot of effort has already gone into breathing new life into it.
My lunch date and I shared two sandwiches, the D’Emilios Caprese (featuring a thick hunk of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, capicola, arugula, balsamic glaze and pesto mayo) and a Bonano (with Molinari salami, dry pepperoni, soppressata and provolone). They are available in regular and large versions ($9.95 or $13.95). The sandwiches are generously sized, and even the “regular” ones require two hands to get a grip and were completely filling. The Caprese was especially good, with an unexpected, spicy bite to it. We washed them down with a delicious arancia and fico d’India (orange and prickly pear) Sanpellegrino soda ($4.95).
Davis said his inspiration for the place has been delis in places where rain and storms are more common, namely San Francisco and New York. D’Emilio is a family name, and he said the new place is a work-in-progress. On a sunny day following my first lunch there, he was on site installing an espresso machine. He said in the days and weeks ahead they’ll also be offering Italian-style coffee drinks and fresh cannolis.
In addition to the deli, the business continues to operate as a commercial bakery (as Kona’s had previously) providing various types of bread to other local institutions like Nobby’s, Chico Meat Locker, B Street Public House, The Banshee and more. The bakery sells its exceptional, fresh-made sourdough and other breads to the general public as well ($8.99 a loaf).
Also among Davis’s primary goals is to turn D’Emilios into a full-service Italian grocery store offering all manner of fine Italian foodstuffs. It’s already part-way there, with one corner stocked with premium olives and oil, canned tomatoes, artisan pasta, canned fish and other Italian delicacies. They also sell Italian meats and cheeses by the pound.
“When I want to cook Mexican food, I go get stuff from [Panaderia] La Michoacana, or if I want Asian stuff I’ll go to the Asian Market on Nord,” he said. “I want this to be like that for Italian food, for people to come in and get a sandwich or a coffee and a cannoli and walk out with a bag full of good, quality groceries.”
He also intends to offer croutons and bread crumbs made in house, as well as custom charcuterie trays, sandwich platters and catering.
I look forward to trying more types of sandwiches in future visits, particularly the Giardiniera (turkey, salami, pepper-jack cheese, giardiniera mix, pepperoncinis and pesto mayo), as well as picking up some groceries when Italian food is on my menu.
D’Emilios Bakery & Delicatessen
138 Main St.
Open daily, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.