Villano's Specialty Market and Deli is not so much a proper restaurant, nor a proper grocery store, as it is a gourmet lunch counter encased in a crypt of impulse purchases. Think about all the fancily packaged items you have ever fleetingly considered purchasing at the Co-op, possibly when stoned, but ultimately could not justify to that small penny-pinching angel perched on your right shoulder. Pricey mulling spices, for instance, or funny-named hot sauces, bread mixes, countless jams, spreads and "sesame honey mustard pretzel dips"--they are all waiting at Villano's to be picked up, chuckled about, and set back on the shelf. Like an island of misfit munchies.
Interspersed among the culinary miscellany are a small number of bistro-style metal chairs and tables--enough that one seemed to be in the way no matter where I turned during my three Villano's lunches, but never enough, it seemed, to handle the daily load of lunch patrons. One could chalk this up to poor planning, but I prefer to think of it as evidence of the establishment's priorities. Villano's is a caterer and takeout mecca first, a sit-down eatery second, and a market third. Once one has accepted this hierarchy and come to grips with the awkwardness of chowing on the market floor, Villano's offers plenty of tasty surprises.
First and foremost is the meat. Villano's features Boar's Head meats and cheeses in all deli sandwiches, but more importantly the delicious Italian sausage and meatballs for subs are made in-house. The former, a patty--rather than link-sausage--is dark, spicy and fennel-heavy, and is modestly served with a smattering of roasted peppers on a baguette. The fist-sized meatballs, on the other hand, are covered with melted provolone cheese and served with a side cup of homemade marinara. Both sandwiches are so simple they rise or fall on the quality of the meat, and in quality Villano's does not disappoint. I was hoping for similarly house-marinated lamb in the gyros--no such luck. But with homemade tzatziki sauce, generous feta and fresh tomatoes, their gyros easily rank among Boise's finest.
Each sandwich is served with a choice of potato chips, soup or salad, although I was graciously allowed to boot the proficient but unexciting market salad in preference of a more interesting-looking broccoli salad. Admittedly, this tasty mixture of broccoli, chives, celery and blanched almonds appeared at first glance to be more fit for ruminant consumption than human, but trust me: it is very good. Better than a broccoli salad probably should be. The rich and chowdery "cheesy potato" soup, on the other hand, was exactly as good as it should be, and the copious black pepper floating throughout only raised its appeal.
For dessert, a rotating selection of bars and cookies were available, and I selected three--a lemon bar, a "lazy" bar and an Almond Roca bar--to take back to the ravenous BW editorial staff. The lemon received rave reviews. It was tart, sweet and floated on a crust so light it might collapse under a hard stare. The lazy, a stout amalgam of various chips, nuts and kitchen sweepings, was a close second. The Almond Roca proved to be the wallflower of the trio, although I found its mixture of almonds and Nutella-y cream atop a shortbread crust to be a quite pleasant distraction from work. Factor in the reasonable prices and prompt service, and Villano's makes an honorable stab at downtown Boise's best takeout lunch.
--Nicholas Collias is fond of the term "takeout mecca."