CHEZ NOUS—HOME TO THE SPICY CHICKEN MELT THAT LOCALS CRAVE
Chez Nous Gourmet Deli and Café
9821 Carroll Canyon Road, Suite E, San Diego
Review By Tanya Huang
December 15, 2010 (Scripps Ranch)--As I pull into the familiar small parking lot, the first places I’m forced to notice are Carl’s Jr. on my right and the local salon on my left. Then, slowly but surely, my eyes are drawn to the sky blue sign, “Chez Nous.” I feel as though I’ve spotted a long lost friend in a crowd of strangers. It’s been months since I’ve been home, in Scripps Ranch, and even longer since I’ve indulged in the best sandwich in town.
Not much has changed, though. The name of the café and the cursive-like font of the sign exude an air of elegance and expensive prices, but newcomers are always pleasantly surprised when they’re warmly greeted by Ali and Saira Mirreza, the husband and wife who own the café, and by the humble décor and affordable menu of the quaint deli.
Chez Nous, meaning “our place” in French, could not be a better name for the café. It makes me feel more at home than any other food establishment. As I approach the door I notice a line has formed—of course, it’s noon. The patient patrons consist of rich-looking businessmen, well-dressed soccer moms and some high school students. Everyone is relaxed and cheerful, unlike the cranky and fidgety customers often seen in long lines elsewhere. They must know whatever they’re getting is well worth the wait—which wasn’t very long.
Almost every person in line orders a spicy chicken melt. Most of them are regulars and the owners know them by name. The newbie in front of me seems somewhat panicked that the place is cash only but Ali quickly reassures him by suggesting that he buy a soda from Carl’s Jr. and get cash back. As I approach the counter Ali is quick to greet me.
“Hi! How are you? Long time no see! You must be busy at SDSU,” Ali says in his charming Persian accent. “Two spicy chickens—one regular and one mild?”
I smile and nod at his impeccable memory. He glances toward Saira. She already has the order rung in. Saira always looks so regal and elegant. Her dark hair is always neatly in place and her brown eyes are always sparkling as she smiles and suggests new items for guests to try.
“Would you like a soup or salad to go with that today?” Saira asks in her lovely British-like accent.
My companion orders two sodas, a side serving of turkey salad and a cup of lentil soup to share. Saira then welcomes us to take a seat anywhere and assures that the food will be brought to us. We got lucky and found an unoccupied table outside, shaded under a large tan umbrella. Roomy seating is hard to come by during their busy lunch hours.
Within minutes, Ali is approaching with our turkey salad and lentil soup on two trays with napkins and utensils. The soup is just the right texture and temperature consisting of a smooth mixture of lentils and a variety of cut up vegetables. The turkey salad is a perfect, creamy blend of turkey chunks, celery and red onions, tossed in an herbal mayonnaise dressing. It’s the most refreshing salad for a warm summer day, but I crave it year round.
Saira is the creator of the addicting turkey salad as well as many of the other salads. She also specializes in inventing the savory daily soups and baking all the delicious pastries. Without her crafty mind we wouldn’t have some of the most popular sandwiches on the menu such as the leg of lamb sandwich, dijon roast beef sandwich, chicken salad sandwich and turkey sandwich.
“One spicy chicken sandwich and one mild.” Saira announces as she placed the spicy one in front of me. “Be careful though, it’s very hot.”
The smell of the spicy chicken makes my mouth water. Here it is, the only sandwich to have ever satisfied any and all of my cravings. This is what I’ve returned to Scripps Ranch for. The first bite is always the best. The tender chunks of chicken are sautéed in a chili-garlic sauce and placed between two thick and crisp slices of jalapeno cheese bread along with slices of tomatoes and provolone cheese. The bread comes out looking golden and toasted to perfection while the chicken appears juicy and succulent, smothered in the creamy orange sauce and gooey melted cheese.
This amazing chicken melt was actually created by accident. The couple vividly recalls a customer who frequented the café daily for their favorite: tuna melt. One day the café’ was out of tuna when the customer arrived, so in an effort to please their regular guest, the owners threw some ingredients together in a blender, mixed it with chicken and added some tomatoes to avoid dryness. The cheese was also added, of course, for the melt-in-your mouth effect rather than just an ordinary sandwich.
“The next day, he came back with four people who wanted the same sandwich,” Ali says laughing. “He didn’t even want the tuna melt anymore.”
That was the beginning of the spicy chicken craze. Chez Nous’ other menu items were also created out of spontaneity rather than a book of recipes. Ali grew up with the familiarity of a variety of spices in Iranian cuisine while Saira majored in French and catered in Bombay, where she was born. The husband and wife have such a broad knowledge of international cuisines, but their ethnicities are not obvious in their menu items.
“We don’t follow any recipes. I just know this is the way you should go because you get used to how everything should taste,” Ali says. “I give customers what they want.”
However most customers don’t seem to fully understand what they want until they have explored Chez Nous’ varyied menu. Everything is so unique that each item has its own personality, which is why there is a note saying, “No modifications please.”
“Have it the way we make it. You might love it! If you don’t like it, come back next time and say ‘I didn’t like it.’” Ali says. “Not only do I give you your money back but I try to please you and give you what you want.”
The best thing about their menu items is that every creation is made with fresh ingredients that are purchased daily. The spicy chicken melt is always my staple, but I have also indulged in the chipotle chicken, portobello chicken, chicken salad and pastrami sandwich, all of which have exceeded my expectations. There are also many great options for vegetarians such as the popular egg salad sandwich, roasted eggplant sandwich, portobello veggie, veggie burger and grilled cheese. The quality of food and service has helped the business maintain a steady following of regular customers.
Chez Nous is the ultimate heavenly retreat from work or school. For less than $10 a person, who wouldn’t keep coming back?