Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Getting My East Coast Italian Fix on at Monte Carlo Market

That's Italian!
When I first came to LA I crash landed into the City of Dreams sight unseen. In truth I think I really came out here to prove to my friends I was mature enough, well-adjusted enough, to live somewhere other than New York. They were convinced that in order to get what I really wanted in terms of a career (and they thought I was way to reliant upon my family) I needed to make a bold move. So I planned it, I had it all set up. I took on a very serious demeanor. These were heady times. Which meant I talked about it for months. I was moving to LA. Me. Woody Allen in drag. I'll be there 6 months or I'll stay because I'll be an overnight success, I would say. Every day I'd spin my head around, looking at Manhattan misty-eyed. I was nostalgic with every coffee cup, Upper East Side mini dog, each punked out artist on 8th. When I'd shut my eyes from the wafting dust, dirt and germs spilling up onto the street through the grates from the subway I'd think I'm going to miss this. I had many long good-byes with friends whom I treated as though I would never, ever see again. I did reckless things too, as though this was the end I should just live it up. The time before I moved was in essence the only time anyone has ever moved from one place to another. No one had ever done anything harder or braver. I was not young and joyful and excited about conquering the world. This was something I had to do to be successful, for my art, for my craft. I'll miss you all! I'll miss you New York! I'll miss you Gray's Papaya! I'll miss you upstanding cab drivers, my soul brothers! I'll miss you smelly C train. I'll miss you COMFORT ZONE. When I was alone I looked very serious. Very sad. Like something important was underway and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. As the plane lifted off, contemplative and still, I gazed out the window and watched the island of Manhattan get smaller and smaller. Finally I had to turn away. I couldn't bear it any longer. This was a momentous occasion requiring great sacrifice. Great bravery. Godspeed, Cynthia. Godspeed.

Upon arrival I was picked up by my friend's husband and we drove on the 405 into the valley. Our stop on the way home was El Pollo Loco - he needed dinner and it was close to their house. These were sweet and generous people. They let me stay in their daughter's room who in turn slept in their room. Their house was in a section of Burbank that was close to an Ikea and the 5 freeway. Every day it was hot or raining. There were no people around. Just parked cars. When I had the guts I'd get in my rental car and drive around, trying to find something that looked normal. Looked fun. Or at least edible. I ended up spending a lot of time at that little house. This couple was super cool and super nice and maybe the best thing in this Godforsaken country. Despite their kindness, despite the fact they seemed normal, I was completely and quietly feeling rather out of my mind. As if it were a mantra, the line 6 months is a hell of a long time turned over and over in my head.


After one month I knew I should leave their house. Not to go back to New York. Not yet. That would be way too embarrassing. Instead I moved in with the only other person I felt comfortable around at that time. He was an acquaintance who had a cool job as a p.a. over at The Warner Brothers lot which sounded like nirvana to me. He was funny, smart and drove an old Cadillac Eldorado. He was also about to become one of my all-time best friends in the whole wide world: Adam. So down Olive I drove with my silly belongings to his place. This place. The most generic apartment complex in the world:

The nearest food was...

Remember Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) standing outside his new home in some Phoenix type suburb after he had joined The Witness Protection Program? The sun was bright. Nothing remotely pretty or with character was anywhere in sight. He explained how one night they wanted to get Italian. So they went to some nearby restaurant. He ordered pasta with marinara and they served him egg noodles with ketchup. Suddenly that scene had new meaning. I just came out here to be discovered and prove people wrong. I hadn't even killed anyone or sold really good coke. Good God will someone please tell me where's the good food at?

Luckily Adam had been here longer than I. He too was from New York, near The Bronx, was good friends with one of my closest friends in NY -- who had amazing taste; especially when it came to Italian food. I knew I could trust Adam if he said there was a good place to go and eat. In fact he had already done important reconn and knew where to take me.

One of the first important places Adam introduced me to was Monte Carlo Deli Market. Recently I found an occasion to make a return visit. Just driving up Magnolia, memories came rushing back. Good food memories. And the place hasn't changed. Not one bit.

If you like to cook, and I do, Monte Carlo has everything you need. I say this to those of you who wish they could eat at Rao's in Harlem, know what Arthur Avenue in The Bronx is, and love that scene in The Godfather when he's slicing the garlic into the olive oil to emulsify. If this resonates with you, you are my audience, you are my people and you need to check Monte Carlo out.
Monte Carlo Interior - pastas, cheeses, olive oils, Stella D'oro
I don't even like these things but they look so right
If you're too lazy to cook, they understand.
Cheese, Meat, Love
San Marzano Tomatoes EVERYWHERE
Even The Mr. Coffee looks imported
That's the Pope next to the Chianti. As God intended.
Of course now that I've lived here for a 1000 years, Monte Carlo isn't the only Italian supermarket I go to. I've found a billion places that satisfy all my jonesing whether it be for Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, you name it. And because I know my lay of the land, sometimes where I end up going simply comes down to proximity. For instance, if I was on the West Side, I'd go to Bay Cities for imported Italian cheese, meats, olive oils. If I needed some real deal pizza, I might swing by Lamonica's in Westwood. Or if I was in The Valley, I'd pop on over to Joe Peeps on Whittsett and Magnolia. That being said, this past weekend when I was making an eggplant parm in honor of James Gandolfini, I couldn't imagine going anywhere but Monte Carlo to shop for my ingredients.

There's nothing like your first, you know? And for me, my first foray into realizing I'd be happy in Los Angeles happened right here at this place in good ole' Burbank, U.S.A.. Maybe I'm not so much like Woody Allen. Or maybe there are many sides to me. Perhaps I'm also a little like his partner, the one who's driving his Rolls down Sunset with the roof off, snapping his fingers. He really looked happy, didn't he? I don't know. But if you ever find yourself in Burbank, swing on by. It might be just be the hit you're looking for. If not, NYC is just a plane ride away. And now there's a Rao's in Vegas.

Monte Carlo Italian Deli is located at 3103 West Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. They're open 7 days a week. For information on hours of operation call 818-845-3516.



  1. Oh my God! So happy you posted this because Monte Carlo is my little gem I've been loving since childhood, but also a little bummed that with your great blog, the secret is out! When I was a little girl, they'd give me a breadstick to chomp on while I followed my parents around the shop. To this day, it always sort of takes me a second to realize that, though I may feel 11 inside, no one is handing out breadsticks to this little kid anymore. That said, this place is so quaint and old school and the guys who work there are just the best. Get some cold cuts, some provolone, a loaf of their fresh bread, which they'll slice up right in front of you and you're set. Did I mention your pal Adam is my secret bff in my head?

  2. Okay. I need to get to Burbank asap. I am a huge fan of Bay Cities and you and Adam and James Gandolfini and this post, and it just seems silly that this is the first I've heard of Monte Carlo Italian Deli. Why didn't you tell me sooner? Why?! I love you. 7 days a week as well.

  3. I can never get out of there without a pound or two of Italian cookies.