D’Elia’s Grinders, 2093 University Ave. (at Kansas), Riverside; also 19009 Van Buren Blvd; open daily
In Riverside a few weeks ago, I made a point of checking out an old recommendation from a reader or two, which was to eat at D’Elia’s, an old-time shop that specializes in grinders, otherwise known as submarine sandwiches.
D’Elia’s was founded in 1955, a little before Ontario’s Grinder Haven, still in business but long out of the original owners’ hands. The D’Elia’s family owned it at one point, if I understand the history of each correctly. Today D’Elia’s is still in family hands, which seems to have made all the difference. Some scoff at Grinder Haven, saying no one knows what a grinder is anymore, but inside D’Elia’s on a Saturday afternoon it was wall to wall customers.
The dining room is blandly 1980s, so there’s no charm in it. But there was an electric charge to be in a line at a nearly full restaurant. The menu is pretty much all sandwiches, except for a few salads.
I ordered a half Sicilian grinder — capocolla, pepperoni, salami (both cotto and genoa) and provolone, with shredded lettuce — along with a bag of chips and a drink. The half sandwich was $9.63, compared to $11.07 for a full. In a way, that was a smart move, because the sandwich was all I could handle, and I don’t think leaving another half in my hot car all afternoon would have been the best idea.
It was delicious, the meats peppery, the bread fresh and crusty. As the shop’s slogan goes: “It’s the bread.” It made such a difference that you can’t help but lament all over again that latter-day Grinder Haven owners have stopped baking their own rolls, deciding it wasn’t worth the effort. It is. The crowds at D’Elia’s are proof.
Trivia note: According to a framed newspaper story on the wall about the restaurant’s history, the name is pronounced “Duh-EE-lee-uh’s.” I wish they still had the original sign, seen below in a vintage photo on a banner on the patio.