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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aussies Rule

Prime picnic-packing places are at a premium come summer. The new Down Under Deli (625-DELI) in the Mid-Valley Shopping Center on Carmel Valley Road qualifies.

We grabbed a nice bottle of Yalumba Chardonnay ($15) summoned from a list that grows strictly out of Monterey County and Australia. For those eating there, glasses come as affordably as $3 for a Jacob’s Creek Reisling (or Yellow Tail whatever) to $7 for a Heskth Shiraz, with some tasty Chalone, Silvestri and Stump Jump options in between ($4-$5).

Seating lingers inside and out with simple set-ups and kitzchy salt-and-pepper shakers. We sat inside where we could worship the wall of vintage San Francisco 49er paraphernalia, including “Super Joe!” press clippings and signed jerseys from William Floyd, Steve Young and Jerry Rice—two of which Vanessa says former Frisco owner (and AT&T National Pro-Am participant) Eddie Debartolo Jr. sent her after she simply wrote him a letter.

(Inside we could also play with the didgeridoo.)

Down Under Deli enjoys the same heartfelt feel as that letter must have. It’s a familiar (albeit hard-to-perfect) formula owners Tom and Vanessa Jager (that's Vanessa, above right) furthered at Presidio-adjacent Duffy’s Tavern when they owned it in its heyday—sturdy, rustic fare served in a warm atmosphere. The motto “we’ll keep you coming back”—borrowed from the boomerang—fits. (Note to self: Damn I miss the old Duffy's.)

The sausage roll I sampled was bland, and the woschester-steak sauce it comes with (A-1?) isn’t enough to redeem it. The meat pie (below) is a half step up, though, thanks to its gravy-upgraded insides.

Hence next picnic it’ll be something from the extensive sandwich side of the menu, like the Sheep Dip ($7.50) with house-roasted Australian lamb, pepper jack and horseradish aioli or maybe the Aussie Extreme Burger, aka “the Lot” with cheese, bacon, tomato, red onion, pineapple and beets)—1/2 pound or 1/3, for $10.50-$11.50.

Their breakfasts look intriguing, from baked beans on toast (piled with two fried eggs with sliced tomato on the side, $5.50), to an Aussie favorite called Bubble and Squeak ($5.95) and, yes, Vegemite on toast ($1.95).

The successful introduction of the Down Under wonder—which is open 8am-6pm weekdays and 10am-3pm Saturday—also means the flowering Mid-Valley station has enough components to earn a mini culinary “destination” designation. Better yet, they are all locally owned.

Carmel Roasting Company (and its wide selection of good drips, 622-0787), Ioli’s Pizzeria (good pies, calzones, draft beers and more, 622-9463) and Jeffrey’s (maybe the best breakfast-lunch spot in the Valley, 624-2029) all lie there within a few steps.