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At Petaluma’s Urban Deli, an eclectic mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Mexican fare

Food to-go

One major step Urban Deli has recently taken to help introduce their food to Petalumans is joining forces with Petaluma Food Taxi. Just this week, the food delivery service announced the addition of Urban Deli to their menu after receiving enthusiastic reviews from current customers. So, for those who find driving across town and parking in downtown to be a challenge, Petaluma Food Taxi is happy to bring Urban Deli’s great food right to your doorstep.

Urban Deli has added a great Eastern Mediterranean (and Mexican) dining option to Petaluma’s downtown restaurant scene, and has quickly become this food writer go-to spot for a quick and delicious bite between work meetings. But this is much more than just a lunchtime diner.

Located in the old Subway sandwich shop in the Theatre District, 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Suite 109, the restaurant could have been relegated to just your run-of-the-mill deli. We have been pleasantly surprised to find a diverse menu filled with incredible flavors, served up by a local family with an interesting story of their own.

Urban Deli is owned and operated by Sam and Marla Qudsieh, both of whom you will find behind the counter cooking and serving up an eclectic menu of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Mexican dishes, all connected to each of their home cultures.

Mexico, Mediterranean and the Middle East

Sam came to the U.S. from Palestine in the early 2000s to join his sister, who owns Julie’s Hummus Bar & Grill in Marin with her husband. However, Sam tells me his family back in the Eastern Mediterranean have always owned and operated restaurants, so he has been cooking since he was a child and loves to mix the flavors from all the different sides of the family.

Marla originally comes from Guanajuato, a city in central Mexico a couple hundred miles northwest of Mexico City and about an equal distance east of Guadalajara. Her family, too, has had restaurants for generations, with her mother’s current eatery back home being the most popular in town, often sporting lines of eager waiting customers.

Marla and Sam met while dining separately with friends at a Celia’s Mexican restaurant in Marin.

“He sent a drink to my table, a margarita, I think,” Marla tells me, with a touch of blush. “That was 12 years ago, and we have been together ever since.”

Marla and Sam now have three children, a 7-year-old who attends St. Vincent’s here in Petaluma, a 4-year-old and the baby, a 4-month-old.

For those looking for the “deli” experience, Urban Deli certainly has you covered with a lot of great sandwiches, plus plenty of sides and side salads and desserts to finish things out. So, we will start there, before moving on to the ethnic food choices that have had us returning regularly since first trying them out a few weeks ago.

Cold Sandwiches

For those in your lunch group who are squeamish about diving into the deep end and want to start with a more familiar sandwich order, Urban Deli has some great option. For cold sandwiches, they have French roasted ham, grilled chicken, club, chipotle Mexican tuna (with cucumbers and pickles) and even a grilled eggplant sandwich with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, spinach and pesto. However, the sandwich that seems to run out first is the fresh roasted turkey, with Swiss and pesto. Sam roasts two turkeys fresh each day for this sandwich and is thinking of roasting even more if the sandwich keeps selling out so quickly.

Warm Sandwiches

In the warm sandwich department, Sam also offers a warm turkey sandwich, topped with Swiss, pickles and cranberry sauce, a clear Thanksgiving nod. He also has a respectable Reuben, a Mexican torta and Cubano, which is a holdover from when Sam owned and operated Mikey’s American/Cuban restaurant in San Rafael in the early 2010’s.

Mediterranean Sandwiches

Although we appreciate a good deli sandwich as much as the next person, upon our first visit to Urban Deli, we were immediately drawn to the international selection of wraps and soft tacos. Unlike many other Eastern Mediterranean restaurants, Urban Deli offers a wide area of choices across the region. This is thanks to Sam being from Palestine, as well as having Greek and Italian heritage. His wraps include shawarma, falafel, gyro and kabob. The menu then wraps up two interesting soft taco choices – Greek chicken tacos (served with tzatziki, Mediterranean salsa and feta cheese) or chicken tacos (served with sumac and onions.) We have had both and loved them equally.

Main Plates

The Mediterranean main plates menu loosely mirrors the Mediterranean sandwich menu, although Sam runs regular specials, including a Friday and Saturday night dinner special, which recently included a chicken shawarma bowl and a shrimp kabob wrap with soup or salad. The normal dinner menu has chicken kabob, beef kafta and chicken shawarma plates (served with rice, salad, hummus and pita bread), as well as a Mediterranean sample plate that is as appetizing as it is attractive, with hummus, falafel, olives, tabouli, dolmas and pita bread. As an aside, Sam’s basmati rice is perfectly cooked and seasoned.

Food to-go

One major step Urban Deli has recently taken to help introduce their food to Petalumans is joining forces with Petaluma Food Taxi. Just this week, the food delivery service announced the addition of Urban Deli to their menu after receiving enthusiastic reviews from current customers. So, for those who find driving across town and parking in downtown to be a challenge, Petaluma Food Taxi is happy to bring Urban Deli’s great food right to your doorstep.

Sides

Sides are offered in three sizes, which is especially nice for those of us who want to try something new but are afraid of overcommitment. Urban Deli offers regular deli salads, such as potato and pasta, and other ethnic favorites such as baba ganoush (a kind of eggplant dip), tabouli (bulgar (cracked wheat), parsley and tomato), orzo pesto, Thai noodle, chicken curry, eggplant, corn and tzatziki. If sides are your thing, you can create a nearly infinite number of combinations plates across Urban Deli’s sides and main plates. And on any given day, there are close to half a dozen hummus choices available, from spicy to Greek to beet to Mexican flavored.

Salads and Soups

Urban Deli offers several salads, including a Chinese chicken salad, a Greek salad, a chicken shawarma salad, a Mexican salad and a falafel salad. With the weather still being warm, they currently only offer a veggie and a Moroccan lentil soup, but both were excellent, so we look forward to trying their expanded fall and winter soup menu.

Gyros, shawarmas, kaftas and kabobs, oh my!

If you are like me and did not grow up with a lot of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, a brief explanation of the different dishes may be helpful. That said, all of them are delicious in their own right, so we use our newfound knowledge simply as a reference, but usually choose from the menu in a relative random manner, wanting to rotate through all Urban Deli’s great flavors.

The short version is that the Turks started a tradition of cooking meat on vertical spits and the practice spread throughout the former Ottoman Empire. Theirs is called “doner,” while the Greek’s is the “gyro” (pronounced “Yee-row” – the “G” is silent) and in the Middle East it is called “shawarma.” Each word roughly translates to “turn” or “turning,” which is the way they are all traditionally cooked. The main differences come by way of what type of meat and which spices are used. That said, you will find all sorts of non-traditional variants here in the U.S.. In fact, most U.S. gyros are served with French fries inside the wrap, but because I do not like soggy fries, and prefer the delicious taste of the seasoned meat, am happy to report that Urban Deli does not adulterate theirs with fries.

And just to round things out on Urban Deli’s menu, “kafta” is ground meat family of dishes (theirs is mixed with onions, parsley and special spices) and kabobs are small cuts of grilled meat that most of us know from the shish kabobs we often cook on our backyard grills.

Kids Menu

Although I encourage the kids in our extended family to try the great ethnic dishes on the menu, if yours are finicky, the kids menu has chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, hot dogs, pasta, chicken quesadilla and chicken tacos.

Dessert

On his only day off, Sam creates almost all of the restaurant’s desserts, which like the menu, are a diverse and beautiful offering, depending on what is left when you get there. We have had several excellent baklava, a Mexican turnover of sorts, cookies, pastries, knafeh (cheese wrapped in shredded and colorful phyllo dough and some really tasty mini pies, so far including a cherry and a pecan pie. It has gotten to the point where the first thing we check when entering the restaurant is the dessert case, so we can see what new and fresh desserts Sam has baked up. Although I have a huge sweet tooth, I have been thoroughly enjoying Sam’s desserts, which lean more towards the savory than sweet side and make for a perfect conclusion to his meals, many of which have the natural sweetness one often finds with well-seasoned meat and some of the Mediterranean sides.

Urban Deli is still feeling their roots and promises updates are in the works. The restaurant plans to add a cooler by the door for ready-to-eat to-go meals and if Petaluma wants it, will expand its dinner menu and hours. Currently they are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“You will have to come try Marla’s tamales once we add them back to the menu,” says Sam. “Where she comes from, they are made with flour instead of corn and are amazing!” Along with adjusting the menu for the seasons, bringing on more soups as the weather cools, Sam and Marla plan to bring on more of Marla’s authentic Mexican dishes now that she can spend more time in the restaurant.

“Customers loved her green pozole, so we will be bringing that back too,” he said.

With such deep culinary roots from both their homelands, plus all they have learned working in restaurant here in the U.S., Sam and Marla also offer a wide array of catering options, from Middle Eastern to Mexican to good ol’ American cuisine. Theirs is another great option as the holidays approach and many of us start to scrabble for interesting ways to liven up both our home and work party menus.

One of the things I was most impressed with when I finally got a chance to meet and speak with Marla and Sam is their openness to feedback. It is well known within the Petaluma dining scene that a restaurant will have a hard time surviving if they do not listen to Petalumans. Although I am simply a food writer (and eater), with minimal insight into what makes or breaks a restaurant, the Qudsieh’s were genuinely interested in our feedback and wanted to know what they could do to be more involved in the community. Although their food is excellent, it is this receptive and inclusive attitude that will likely be what pushes things over the top for them and hopefully has them successfully participating in Petaluma’s restaurant scene for decades to come.

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