- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- SAVORY : Scott Liddi’s café is practically invisible but well worth a trip for his delectable Italian treats.
The proof of this hit me when I arrived for a second visit at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday: All that was left to choose from were two sandwiches and four salads. I was bummed because the offerings didn’t include the super Tuscan panini I was eager to taste.
It’s only open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If there’s a rush at lunch, like me you might not get the order you crave. The friendly Liddi and his staff tell everyone who arrives too late: “You can order ahead by phone so your order will be ready to go when you arrive.”
That’s the way all of their foods are served, even if you don’t call your order in ahead. Each morning the staff begins at 6:15 a.m. baking focaccia and prepping meats, cheeses, greens, and veggies for panini and salads. At 8:30 a.m. the crew begins assembling the offerings of the day. When they open up at 10 a.m. you can drop in and buy one or several panini and/or salads without waiting; they’re packaged ready to go.
During my first visit I ordered the Caprese fungi panini, and really enjoyed it. The fresh, soft focaccia is topped with mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, Roma tomatoes, seasoned and sautéed portabella mushrooms with a balsamic vinegar glaze, extra-virgin olive oil, and a mild basil pesto spread. It was generously filled, fresh tasting, and satisfying. The five-inch focaccia is equal to the size of a large hamburger, but, obviously, the panini is far healthier. Every panini and salad is priced $7.99 (not including tax or tip). For $9.25 you get the panini combo: your choice of panini with a beverage and small bag of chips. The drinks are limited canned iced teas, fruit enhanced waters, plain bottled waters, and Black Horse Italian coffee. The Frito Lay snack bags include potato or corn chips, and Cheetos. I’m not big on chips; it’s the sandwiches and salads that call me back for more.
I can’t wait to try the super Tuscan, a great sounding combination: spicy Italian capacollo ham; crunchy, oven-baked pancetta; provolone cheese; tangy pepperoncini peppers; whole basil and arugula leaves; sun-dried tomato and basil pesto spread; served on fresh focaccia. The second visit the only choices available at the end of the lunch rush were: the pollo supreme panini, grilled chicken and mozzarella; the tacchino rustic, a roasted turkey panini with caramelized onions and cranberry-basil pesto spread; or the Mediterranean chopped salad. I chose the latter and though it appeared small in size, the bowl was packed full. A combination of chopped romaine and mixed lettuces, it’s topped with chicken breast, mixed black and green olives, fresh Roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and a choice of vinaigrettes (the latter made by Slo ConCo, a neighbor in the same industrial park). The dressing choices included: gorgonzola thyme, Kalamata olive and feta cheese, or sun-dried tomato. The Kalamata olive and feta cheese vinaigrette was perfect with the Mediterranean salad. I loved the combination of flavors and textures, and it was so satisfying. I asked if they grilled the chicken in-house. The server, Leiah Shrogin, told me that, originally, they grilled it but as they became busier on a daily basis, they didn’t have time. Now they purchase pre-cooked chicken. I’ve had this kind at restaurants before and was not impressed. The chicken on my salad, however, was all white breast meat, moist, tender, and delicious.
Liddi and team bake loaves of bread on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, selling one- or two-pound loaves ($4.99 and $6.99, respectively). There are only three dining tables outside the small place, which were filled my first visit. Cal Poly Professor Larry Johnston, who performs in Liddi’s band, Grüvething, generously shared his table with me. Liddi stopped what he was doing to address everyone, asking: “I hope you’re all enjoying your sandwiches?” and received an enthusiastic yes from everyone.
Liddi’s panini are popular at local coffee shops, including Black Horse in SLO, and Steaming Bean in Shell Beach. Interestingly, Liddi started his business by making Italian biscotti cookies; the company name is “Biscotti ByScotti.” He makes them in various flavors that you can buy at the café. They’re the old-fashioned, twice-baked cookies that stand up to dunking in coffee. On Saturdays, he provides boxed lunches ByScotti for Breakaway Tours, based in Arroyo Grande, for their wine-country tours. On weekdays, whether you’re headed to the SLO Airport, or craving some tasty Italian food at value-prices, Fiero (which means proud or bold in Italian) Café and Bakery is a great choice.
You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.