Restaurant of the Week: Viola’s Deli

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Viola’s Deli, 17715 Arrow Ave. (at Alder), Fontana

It’s rare that I visit Fontana for anything. We don’t officially cover Fontana anymore, that duty being left to our sister paper The Sun, and downtown Fontana is so far from our Ontario office (15 miles) that it’s impossible to get over there on a lunch hour.

After Pomona’s State of the City luncheon, though, Fairplex CEO Jim Henwood, of all people, was telling me about a little deli in Fontana. A native New Yorker, Henwood said Viola’s Deli made cold subs in Big Apple style: shredded lettuce and olive oil tucked inside a tube of cold cuts and cheese, the whole thing inside a roll laid flat for just moments on a grill. (I think I’m remembering this right.)

So I began looking for an excuse to go to Fontana. Conveniently, the new library, which I’ve been hearing about for two years, is opening and as a library fancier, I intended all along to check it out. Arrangements were made for a tour at 1:30 Wednesday, which allowed me to combine the trip with — yes! — lunch.

Naturally, Viola’s was my choice. I was joined by reader Tom Leak, a Fontana resident and real sandwich maven, who treated, which was awfully nice of him. Good ol’ Fontana hospitality.

Viola’s is at Alder and Arrow, across from the Fontana courthouse and a little east of downtown. It’s been there since 1990 and its owners are former N.Y. deli folks, according to their website. Viola’s shares a small building with a law office. The deli is an unprepossessing place with a counter and a dozen two-chair tables.

I got a capocolla sub and Leak had the oli. (He’s not sure what the oli is but he liked it.) Mine was as Henwood had described it, and very tasty.

Cold or hot subs are $4.29 (small) to $5.35 (large). Viola’s also makes brownies, cakes and cookies; one of the lunch specials gives you a sub, soda and piece of cake. I’m thinking of applying for work at the law office.

Another menu item may be coming. A handwritten sign on the counter polls customers: “Would you prefer a steak, chicken or turkey pot pie?” Based on the hash marks, turkey and chicken are in a dead heat, with steak lagging far behind with three votes. It’s too late for California to decide on Hillary or Barack, but the Viola’s pot pie election is on.

* Update February 2014: Returning to Viola’s six years later for photos, I got a 10-inch NY steak sandwich, chips and soda ($9.60 with tax, below). Wow, what a sandwich! Grilled ribeye, lettuce, onion, tomato and American cheese, inside a warm and crisped roll, which may have been buttered. The menu says the steak is “grilled with our special blend of herbs and spices.” Whatever they did, it was delicious. I can’t be making hour round-trips to lunch, but this was a darned good sandwich. I’ll be back in 2020.

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  • DMH

    I’m not sure if this is proper place to post this (and I know you probably get plenty of these) but my good friend took me to an excellent Mexican restaurant today called Taqueria Guadalupas. Sorry but I’m not sure it I spelled the second part right. It is located on Towne and Mission, across from the 7-11.

    My friend is a lifelong Pomona resident and this is the best (Juanita’s being close).

    [Haven't been there but I've now added it to my list. -- DA]

  • Brian Olivero

    Viola’s originated in Niagara Falls, N.Y. (still there) in a storefront deli owned by my grandmother.

    Gramma spent years trying to eke out a living at the store when a fellow named Viola returned from the New York World’s Fair and told everyone about this big sandwich they made there called a “submarine.” Viola said he wanted to buy the store and make sandwiches. Everyone said he had to be crazy because you could make a sandwich at home but he bought the place and the rest is history.

    Everytime I return to the Falls I have to have my Viola’s sub.

    [Wow! Thanks for the background. You didn't specify, but I'll assume you own the Fontana Viola's? -- DA]

  • Scott in RC

    May be how the “Oli” sandwich got its name….Put me down for the chicken pot pie when you start your new gig at the law office.

    [I'll run your order downstairs to the deli. -- DA]

  • Anon

    I looked them up and they have a website as well: http://www.violasdeli.com