Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Dominick’s Deli

Lunch pal Paul Robins and I were at a small table inside Dominick’s Italian Market & Deli when co-owner Raquel Bellizzi placed a platter of antipasto in front of us, with a basket of house-baked bread. Wow, what a spread: imported mortadella flecked with pistachio, paper-thin slices of prosciutto, rounds of dry salami and hot coppa (seasoned, dry-cured pork shoulder), red and golden peppers, cheeses, olives and more.

Robins anchors the news from 5 to 10 a.m. weekdays on KTXL Fox40 (“I do sleep deprivation”), so the natural question was, “Are you planning to catch ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,’ starring Will Ferrell as TV personality Ron Burgundy?” “I have a very low tolerance for stupidity,” he replied. “But I agreed with my co-workers that we would go together to see it.”

For 18 years, Robins and radio partner Phil Cowan ruled the local airwaves with “The Paul & Phil Show” on KGBY FM Y92.5, until they ended the gig in 2006. “Phil and I are still very tight,” Robins said. “We have lunch once a month.”

Speaking of lunch, we chose Dominick’s delicatessen because of Robins’ new book, “Did Sid?” The plot: It’s Sacramento in 1980, and Sid Bigler, 27, runs a deli he inherited from his late father. Bigler is a runner (like Robins) who runs a plotted course through town at night, and for a few nights in a row he hears gunshots. Turns out somebody is shooting up local landmarks, including Fairytale Town, Sutter’s Fort, the Capitol and City Hall.

It’s not long before Sid is a suspect and a reluctant P.I. “It becomes his job to prove he didn’t do it,” Robins said.

“When I’m reading for fun, I prefer a mystery,” Robins said, stabbing a slice of salami with a fork. “Not the dark, violent kind, but the smart-alack, make-you-laugh kind. So that’s what I wrote.”

In a classy move, Robins will donate the proceeds from the first two months’ of book sales to Easter Seals and Atkinson Youth Services, “two organizations I really love.” Beginning today, readers can go to and buy it in digital download or paperback.

Back to lunch: We had nearly demolished the antipasto and ordered more courses, and now it was time for some context and a mini-walkabout.

Husband and wife Dominick and Raquel Bellizzi came to town nine years ago from New Jersey, a state that’s on intimate terms with submarine sandwiches and cannoli. Dominick had worked in a few delis when he got into computer science in 1994. He climbed the corporate ladder and found himself stationed in Puerto Rico, then back in New Jersey and then in Sacramento, and facing another relocation.

“It wasn’t fun anymore,” he said. “We love this area and wanted to stay, but something we found lacking was (a real) deli. A lot of places call themselves delis, but they’re really sandwich shops. So Raquel said, ‘Why don’t you leave the company and open a deli?’ So we did. All the dishes we serve here are from family recipes.”

The market part of the operation is stocked with imported olive oils and pastas, Italian pannetone and cookies, wine and cans of lupini beans. At the deli case is a hand-written sign: “We have liverwurst.” In the cold case are tuna salad, stuffed peppers, garlic-marinated prawns, seldom-seen arancini (Sicilian rice balls), mozzarella-cherry tomato salad, roasted veggies, olives and much more.

On the menu board are long lists of first-rate made-to-order hot and cold hero sandwiches and panini, along with pizza and calzone, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, and Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions. Prices range from $4.50 to $25.

The Bellizzis’ two other restaurants are Dominick’s Italian Trottoria, next door to the deli (go for the linguine and clams), and Dominick’s New York Pizza & Deli (187 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom), where the pizza is the real East Coast deal.

At Sid Bigler’s imaginary deli, the specialties are the Bleubird Sandwich (spicy grilled chicken breast topped with bacon and blue cheese dressing) and the brown sugar- and butter-laden cinnamon rolls.

Is the Bleubird part of Robins’ cooking repertoire? “I’ve never actually made one, it just sounded good,” he said. “But I love to cook. I make a killer sesame chicken.”

Suddenly, plates of food materialized. “Mom’s” gargantuan meatball had been sliced, placed in a ramekin, and covered with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. An arancini was crisp on the outside, with a moist middle of fragrant saffroned risotto surrounding a pocket of meaty sauce. We wanted some heat, so jumped on the huge Goodfella hero of ham, hot coppa, salami, provolone and hot cherry peppers, stacked on a hoagie roll.

How good was it all? Let’s just say that whenever we’re in the mood for authentic Italian cooking, the three Dominick’s restaurants are the go-to’s.