Believing in Bruno’s
More major reasons to rediscover the Carmel institution.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
It’s hard not to like a butcher named Flintstone. And it only gets harder from there. Note: The amiable Tom Flintstone, like each of his fellow meat-cutters at Bruno’s, mixes a simple signature seasoning rub for customers and gives it away – with easy-to-follow instructions – as generously as he does advice on how many mammoth shish kebobs is too many.
One recent day I find he isn’t there. I start to panic. Flintstone’s likeability index starts to dive, then I hear this: He’s vacationing...in Africa...hunting Cape buffalo...with a bow and arrow. Likeable no longer does this dashing moustachioed man justice. Dude is downright inspiring.
But the loyal and likeable staff is just one of many reasons that Bruno’s, even after 50-plus years in business, continues to impress. Another is the fact that the Sanchez family that owns and runs the store supports the area’s charities with the same enthusiasm with which they prep homemade meatballs. Here, we offer five more reasons:
The Instant Picnic Basket
The work day is done. The Indian summer skies are a make-believe blue. An impromptu picnic beckons from so many places – Carmel Beach’s sunset cradle, Big Sur or the Outdoor Forest Theater. But there’s no time, or desire, to put together a homemade spread. Fortunately, at Bruno’s, all the homemade quality is there with none of the hassle. Recently I popped in post-workday and came away with two tender pork ribs ($5.99/pound) and a Pacifico – and sunset at Point Lobos got that much better.
Longtime Bruno’s butcher Brian Johnson has his own preferred version of the stow-and-go. “A Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon or Shafer Merlot,” he says, “a dill havarti cheese, and some sliced tri-tip. That’s basically it for me.” For bigger picnickers, the large homemade crab cakes ($2.99 each) and various meats make for a mean barbecue. For the biggest picnickers, Bruno’s runs an increasingly popular catering operation, taking their ‘cue on the road and throwing things like pulled pork sandwiches, assorted sausages and spring rolls at happy people on location.
It’s a good sign to see the local construction crew at the same deli as yourself. At Bruno’s, the collective hunger of the community’s builders gets flattened daily by monster stacks of Columbus and Boar’s Head meat and a landslide of quality condiments ($4.99/sandwich). I like the turkey and salami ($6.50 for double meat) with everything on wheat, but then again, the oak-grilled tri-tip sando ($6.50) on Bruno’s French roll, with a third of a pound of meat, is a deal too.
These are the cheese enchiladas ($3.99/pound) you’re looking for. Unless you’re in the mood for lasagna – or maybe a two-inch-thick frenchbread pizza ($1.99/large square). Or a mild chile relleno ($4.99/pound) stuffed to heaven with jack and cheddar. Each dish is homemade fresh daily and awash in delicious cheeses. For that matter, the sizeable $2.99 breakfast burrito, while basic, delivers plenty of oozing jack. The mozzarella deli salad, meanwhile – with perfect balls of soft, mild mozz in a very light sweet basil and red onion cream sauce – is another example of cheese divinity.
DINNER(S) ON A STICK
The big blocks of chicken, lamb or sirloin, spliced with slices of sweet bell pepper, are so heavy that just one kebob ($7.99/pound) works as a gourmet grilled dinner for two. (And OK, it’s not a dinner, but anyone who can resist a chicken corn dog, $1.59, is stronger than I.)
Just when Bruno’s appeared to have everything for the discerning sipper – from bottles of designer cream soda to premium champagne – the Sanchez family opened the adjacent Surf n Sand four years ago and stocked it with a world of inspired spirits and hundreds of wines. Visitors would do well to pop in here just to look at the possibilities – the selections of bourbons, añejos, or Pinots each merit careful study. Better yet, folks can shoot by one of Surf n Sand’s regular tasting events (past iterations have ranged from vodka to tequila) and investigate by tastebud. Coming up Nov. 8 at La Playa Hotel: champagne, scotch and cigars.
Behind all these reasons to heart Bruno’s lies one big reason so many good things happen at Sixth and Junipero. Brian Johnson, after about a decade at the store, knows it well.
“Our pride drives us,” he says. “You gotta have pride. It’s the main thing – pride in what you’re putting in the counter, pride in good relationships, in your loyal customer base.” That kind of pride is hard not to like.
Junipero and Sixth, Carmel • 7am-8pm • 624-3821; fax orders to 624-0728.