Full Belly Deli - Reinventing an American Classic, Twenty Bites at a Time
Interview with Chef Tom Marrin and Manager Eric Barton
By Dorothy Wu
TRUCKEE, CA. On Monday, April 28th, Notes on the Road sampled the ultimate hot, juicy and hearty breakfast sandwich: Fried Egg (over easy), Ham, Green Chili, Ripe Tomato, Raw Spinach and Cream Cheese served up in a fresh house-made Everything Bagel pressed panini-style. Beauty and simplicity that enthralled each hungry cell of the human body, with every individual mouth-watering bite.
It was our sixth visit to Full Belly Deli in Truckee's Pioneer Center over the course of the last few months, where chef Tom Marrin's delectable creations keep local tummies rumbling and back for more sandwich satisfaction. Secret: some of the best the house has to offer runs as daily specials and can't be found on the menu nor on their website.
Together with his business partner Eric Barton and their closely-knit team, chef Marrin offers an unusual range of classic American soups and sandwiches, reinvented and infused with flavors drawn from his Southwestern roots, fine-dining background and love for different world cuisines: Dorito-Encrusted Buffalo Chicken, Vietnamese Banh Mi Meatball Sandwiches, the Dirka Dirka (recipe below!), just to name a few.
Between Barton's dedication to warm hospitality, and Marrin's creative genius, Notes on the Road found a wealth of inspiration in learning more about their philosophy, work ethic, business partnership and of course, their locally-famous "sandos." From the chat we had with the two foodie-entrepreneurs stolen during a slim lull between their breakfast and lunch hour rushes:
Why a sandwich shop?
Tom Marrin (chef): When you're eating with a fork, all you do is push your food around the plate, looking for that perfect bite. We aim to put it on bread and give you twenty perfect bites. That's our motivation behind making sandwiches. In every region of the United States, every region of the world, everybody's got their style of sandwich. [interview continues below]
What's the story behind the Dirka Dirka?
Eric Barton (co-owner / manager): The Dirka Dirka is named after our buddy Dirk, and is created using flavors and ingredients that he liked. We ran it as a special one day and people loved it so much that we put it on the menu. It's made from Corned Beef, Pastrami, Jalapeño Cole-Slaw, Swiss Cheese, Pickles and Yellow Mustard.
TM: It's become one of our signature sandwiches for sure, but was probably one of the last ones that we put on the menu, almost like a mistake. A good example of the kind of creativity and the freedom that we have to do whatever we want. It was just a sandwich that I made for a guy that didn't know what he wanted, and which became legendary ever since.
Do you make the Jalapeño Coleslaw?
TM: Yes, we make that from scratch - it's one of our signature recipes. We have a lot, but that's definitely one of the ones that we take a lot of pride in. We blend it up with a cabbage and carrot mixture. [See Dirka Dirka recipe below]
Tell us about some of the other special house sauces.
TM: It's said that "the sauce is what pulls a plate together" - and we try to use that idea to create "the perfect bite." Even if it's just using mayo and mustard in the right way. The Southwest chicken, another one of our most popular sandwiches, features our Chipotle-Aioli (also a secret recipe that we've come across, which we used to use for our fish tacos but happened to go with the chicken and avocado really well). Our Tri-Tip is seasoned with a dry-rub that really sets our steak sandwich aside from a lot of others.
What's in the rub? We've heard rave reviews about your Tri-Tip-
TM: [smiles] I won't tell you all the ingredients but it has dry mustard, paprika, cumin (which I use in practically everything, being from the Southwest)...
We heard something about experimental Dorito-encrusted foods.....?
EB: [smiles] That was a special as well.
TM: We grind up Cool Ranch Doritos and regular nacho cheese Doritos, with bread crumbs, and then we use that to bread chicken breasts, bake 'em in the oven till they're real crispy, and then use it like a buffalo chicken sandwich. We put that down on a fresh roll with bacon, lettuce, tomato, Frank's red hot, and provolone cheese. We've had different specials almost every day for over two-and-a-half years, so we keep thinking, experimenting, picking up things along the way, through travels.
We went through a big phase of encrusting potato chips on everything, a pork-loin encrusted with chili cheese Fritos... we just look around, figure out what we have...and get creative. Instead of people getting chips with their sandwiches we figured we may as well try putting them in the sandwiches.
And to top it all off - you make your own bread and bagels too.
TM: We like to think that our bread makes any sandwich taste good. We bake a French-style roll and then add our different toppings. Similar to the bagels, croissants, muffins, all of which we bake here. We have people that come in here and buy loafs all the time. The Asiago, Jalapeño-Cheddar and Blue Cheese breads are all pretty popular. We try to stay local and organic as much as possible, in order to serve up the freshest and best ingredients.
Tell us about your delicious Vietnamese Banh Mi Meatball Sandwich Special.
TM: Well, usually when I go on vacation all I do is eat, and I have a list of places I have to visit. My standard is two breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners-
TM: -I was in Las Vegas with a friend, and they have an amazing Asian market there that's probably three streets long. All different styles of Asian foods. I got five different sandwiches to take with me, to taste-
-But a MEATBALL Banh Mi? What's in it?
TM: Pork meatballs with fish sauce, coriander, curry powder, Sriracha, salt and pepper, plus pickled vegetable (shredded Daikon radish, shredded carrot that we make here in marinade of sugar and rice wine vinegar). Put that all together on a crusty roll, add Sriracha mayo that we also make here, which adds a nice creaminess to the tangy-bitter vegetables. It's one of my favorites also!
Do you have a different special every day?
A lot of the specials that we do we come up with a couple of hours before we send them out and announce them on our email list. There are specials everyday - and though we have some overlap, we strive to keep it fresh and different every day of the week. The only thing we do regularly is the Gyro on Thursdays for lunch, and Biscuits & Gravy on Fridays for breakfast. We've got people that come here two, three times a week who've never had a sandwich off the menu. They always get the specials, and don't even know what the special is and just say "I'll take the special."
Where are you guys from originally?
So when did you decide to partner up and open up Full Belly Deli?
EB: Almost three years ago -
TM: We were working together for another restaurant / country-club style company. I was the chef, and-
EB: -I was the catering manager.
TM: Just having a passion for sandwiches I wanted to open a sandwich shop. We actually started doing it in July 2007, and it kind of fell out and looked like it wasn't going to happen. But then in November, it fell back again in our laps and we had about 3 weeks to put it all together. Get the paint up, get the menu together, and figure it out before we opened again.
EB: All of a sudden it was go-time and we really had to make it happen.
TM: November 1st we signed papers and December 11th we opened again. An unexpected rush and turnaround in what was happening. This place used to be totally different inside, had a beach theme, and we changed the whole concept.
EB: We put in all the granite, counters, changed the paint. That's it.
What goes through your heads when you think back to your previous job, now that you've been running Full Belly for a couple of years?
EB: I'm really happy that we did it. I wouldn't change a thing! Working for yourself is so much more satisfying than working for someone else. Even when the job looks daunting, I always find I have energy to do "whatever it takes."
TM: It seems like when you're working for somebody else, you cherish all your free time. But even though you have less when you are working for yourself, it feels like a lot more free time. I get to do whatever I want, cook whatever I want, wake up in the morning and have ideas, and come in here and "play" all day long-
You've certainly found full expression for your creativity within the sandwich niche! You guys do catering for special events, weddings and meetings too, right?
TM: Yes, mainly during the summertime. Our company Blue Lake Catering handles everything from 250-person weddings, to nice parties... with menus that range from fine-dining to barbeques and pig-roasts at the park.
EB: Our team takes on pretty much just about anything we can handle. I've got a great on-call staff for front-of-the-house needed for catering gigs. So I can always bring some people in as needed, for parties and events. Last week we did the Truckee Follies, 250 people each night, for four nights in a row - food for one thousand people.
Tell us about your core team.
EB: We've got Kristi back there, she's from Connecticut as well, and worked at quite a few delis back East. She's got her hands full in the back, and you'll see her running around getting our prep done, and helps us out in coming up with new specials. Then there's Greg, who's the New Yorker and the newest member of our team. He's had some influence on some specials that we've put out, and the four of us are just good buddies. When it's crunch time we put our heads together, roll up our sleeves, and keep each other laughing too. Especially Greg- he just never stops talking! He's our comic relief most of the time - a hilarious guy. And we have a couple of prep cooks in the back that we could never do without.
You have a special talent for remembering names!
EB: Actually I've always been not so good at remembering names but since we opened this place I've just made a point of remembering. We're all very personable with the guests that come in. I know the first names of probably about 80 percent of the people that walk in every day. We're in a small town, a small community here...it's nice. Everybody should feel special when they come into my restaurant. If you can greet somebody by their first name, they really appreciate it.
FULL BELLY DELI'S FAMOUS DIRKA DIRKA SANDO
- 2.5 oz thinly sliced corned beef
- 2.5 oz thinly sliced pastrami
- 2 slices Swiss cheese
- 1 oz. deli style yellow mustard
- 1 kosher dill picke (hand sliced into rounds)
- 3 oz FBD jalapeño cole slaw (recipe to follow)
- one 6 inch French roll, or FBD jalapeno cheddar roll
- ½ head green cabbage, shredded
- ½ head red cabbage, shredded
- 1 carrot, shredded
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- ½ cup Mayo
- 2 Tbsp sour cream
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 jalapeno w/o seeds
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp white vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blend well, toss with cabbage mixture.
Method: Heat pastrami and corned beef in a pan, melt swiss cheese on top. Add sliced pickles and yellow mustard to bottom side of the roll. Add meat and melted cheese to roll and top with coleslaw. Press in a panini press if available.
Full Belly Deli
10825 Pioneer Trail Road
Truckee, CA 96161