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[whitespace] Cheap Eats

By Todd Inoue

Zanotto's Grill
40 S. Second St., San Jose
Lunch 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat, 10am-7pm Sun

DURING LUNCH hour, the deli counter at Zanotto's can resemble Toys "R" Us during Christmastime, where grown men and women queue up for Tickle Me Elmo. I love Z's sandwiches, bursting with meats and cheese, but I'm just a little tired of the newbies who think they're at Dean & Deluca and get all sniffy when the counter folks don't pay attention to them. Fill out the sheet. Take a number. Wait for designated number to be called. Hand sheet over. Is that so freaking hard?

So lately, I've been hooking a left at the produce section and zipping through the designer snacks and olive oil bar to the left side of the meat counter, where there is, at most, one person waiting. The sandwiches here aren't overstuffed like a couch arm but sleek, sexy and aerodynamic, so typical of Italian design.

They're panini. That's Italian for "little bread," but to me it translates as "dope-ass sammiches with salty cured meats, Italian cheese, roma tomatoes, basil leaves and other stuff on toasted baguette."

Zanotto's usually has four or five paninis already sliced in half-pound increments ($4 or so). The choices include salami and mozzarella, prosciutto and brie, salami and brie, even turkey and cranberry.

The prosciutto and brie panini beats the pants off its cross-store rivals. The panini-rista asks the silly question "toasted?" Of course! Four hefty hunks of brie laze with skin-thin prosciutto di Parma on a toasted baguette--toss the damn picnic basket, it's all there wrapped in white butcher paper. The toasting melts the cheese just right, so every bite of crunchy baguette, salty prosciutto and gooey brie is like a Francesco Totti free kick--golden.

I feel good sharing this tidbit with readers, but now everyone who sees this will cram the panini counter. Damn, forget I said anything.

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From the June 27-July 3, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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