There are many ways to describe a “foodie” these days, but in my mind, it has always been loosely defined as someone who takes pleasure in exploring a wide variety of food from many cuisines and price points. A foodie is an eater who finds as much satisfaction in a solid fish taco as they do from a meticulously executed 10-course gourmet experience. Unfortunately, many so-called foodies tend to overlook the lower to medium price points of the dining spectrum, or places that may not make it on to the latest “Eater 38” hot list or similar trendy designation. Classic old-school delis are a prime example and in this edition of Lick the Plate, I’d like to bring one to your attention that resides within a short drive of wherever you live in The Coast News territory.
Before I dive into my Milton’s love fest, I’d suggest you check out the documentary Deli Man that can be viewed on several online streaming services. It documents the story of 19th-century Jewish immigrants and how their deli cuisine found its way into the mainstream. It celebrates those delis, their important place in our history, and how their numbers are rapidly declining. If you come from any major urban city there is a good chance you had several delis to choose from and have stories of how they played a role in your culinary education. Besides all the history, a good deli offers up quality comfort food in an environment that foodies who like a bit of history and character in their restaurants should embrace.
Now on to the topic at hand, Milton’s Deli and owner Barry Robbins. A quick backstory had this Chicago native taking deep dish pizza to his college campus in Illinois, then expanding into California, perfecting a frozen version with an early customer being the San Diego based Price Club. Post pizza venture he opened Milton’s in 1994 and around that time neighbor Claire Allison kept bringing him some really good and healthy bread that eventually became the foundation of the Milton’s line of bread and other baked goods. Claire went on to open Claire’s on Cedros and recently returned to Milton’s as executive chef, adding some health-conscious items to the deli menu. It’s all come full circle so to speak.
That’s a good move for sure given their coastal location and health-conscious demographic, but I’m here to talk about the old school deli comfort food and some items off the menu that I could really not live without and so happy I have it locally.
First up is their amazing Hot Corned Beef sandwich on beautiful rye bread served with choice of homemade cole slaw, potato salad, pasta salad or fresh fruit and a really good pickle. Potato salad is my choice with this work of art and it’s all that and then some. This, folks, is one of my favorite things to eat. If you want a more robust version of this simply add some Swiss cheese, sauerkraut on grilled rye with Russian dressing and you have the Reuben Reuben Reuben as they call it. I’ll mention one more in the sandwich category yet should assure you that you are not going to go wrong with any sandwich on their menu. Being a Chicago guy, Barry has included a very solid Chicago-style Italian Beef sandwich with savory beef sliced thin, piled high on garlic bread with melted mozzarella, sautéed green peppers and, breaking with tradition somewhat, a side of au jus rather than doing the dipping for you. Regardless, it rocks.
Brisket, Pastrami, Smoked Turkey, Chopped Liver, Whitefish Salad are just a sampling of the sandwiches that you will find on the menu at Milton’s and in any respectable deli in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Matzo Ball soup, Potato Latke, Stuffed Cabbage, Herring, Egg and Chicken Salad are also items that stay true to the old school deli ways.
Beyond the deli staples, there are some great looking salads, including a fine Chopped Salad, Classic Cobb and a Caesar. Full-on dinners include Baby Back Ribs, Southern Fried Chicken, Grilled Salmon, Skirt Steak and Roasted Turkey. Dinner specials happen nightly.
There is a pastry section that rivals any bakery in San Diego, very respectable bagels, frozen Chicago-style deep dish pizza to take home, and all the wonderful Jewish deli fare like lox, cream cheese and much more.
I’m only scratching the surface of what’s available at Milton’s. All of this can be ordered from many of the food delivery services so prevalent these days but do yourself a favor and make the trip to Milton’s and experience the authenticity of this place. Most of what you will be eating is made in-house or brought in from the best purveyors in the country so it’s not a budget experience but given the quality and non-chain atmosphere, I had no problem with that. There is a solid place in the foodie world for delis and we should feel lucky that we have Milton’s locally doing it right.
Milton’s also has a very cool private room that is perfect for large parties, networking events, or company functions. Find them at 2660 Via De La Valle, Del Mar. Call (858) 792-2225 or visit www.miltonsdeli.com.
Coast News Lick the Plate columnist David Boylan is celebrating 10 years and 500 columns with the Coast News in 2019! His feature covers the ever expanding North County culinary scene that includes restaurants, culinary personalities, trends, observations, tributes and his popular takeover column where area businesses, bands or teams contribute to the column. Lick the Plate has also been a popular radio show for the past eight years in San Diego on 100.7 KFMB, and on stations in Detroit, Michigan, Windsor Ontario and Traverse City, Michigan. Besides the column and radio show, David runs Tatonka Digital & Analog, a boutique marketing agency headquartered in Oceanside, California. Reach him with show suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lick-the-plate.com