Most writers would tell you that the great thing about conducting in-person interviews is the candor and trust afforded by comfortable, one-on-one conversation. It’s true: The stories where I sit down face-to-face with sources tend to be those of which I am most proud. Yet, what I enjoy almost as much about hitting the road to cover a story is the way it brings me to new locales.
OK, so a trip from Downtown Ventura across the city to the identity-less commercial no-man’s land that surrounds the intersection of Main Street and Telephone Road isn’t exactly a trek across the Sahara. It did, however, give me an opportunity to explore Poinsettia Plaza’s lunch offerings a few weeks ago. I hadn’t hung out in the center for more than a few minutes since the Teltron Internet Cafe closed years ago.
Back in those days, though, I remembered a friend of mine who makes some of the best pasta dishes I have ever tasted used to regularly visit the nearby Italian grocery store for ingredients. I was always amused by the place. It seemed rather modest with its nondescript sign simply reading, “Italian Grocery.” I saw the place again after my recent interview and thought it might be interesting to check out.
I don’t recall if my friend ever mentioned La Mantia Italian Grocery’s sandwich offerings, but he was missing out if he never indulged.
La Mantia’s menu is simple. Beyond the traditional Italian groceries (mostly condiments, sauces and dry pasta as well as some meats and cheeses), the store offers a selection of 10-inch hot and cold submarine-style sandwiches. Nothing on offer is going to make a cardiologist or a vegetarian happy (meatless options include a three-cheese sub and a three-cheese with artichoke hearts), but La Mantia doesn’t make any pretense otherwise. What it does do is make a mean sandwhich that is easy on the wallet.
On my first visit, I tried the prosciutto sandwhich. Normally, prosciutto is out of my price range except as a rare treat. At $6.75, it is still the priciest item on La Mantia’s but much cheaper than most lunch choices these days and on par with chain stores like Subway, Quizno’s and Jersey Mike’s. The helpings of prosciutto were generous, and ordering the sandwich “Italian Style,” with Italian dressing, lettuce, onions, tomatos and pepperoncinis, brought out its flavor more than I imagine “American Style” would have (that’s with mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and pepperoncini).
Atmosphere at La Mantia isn’t something to write home about, but it’s not meant to be and the plastic tables on the sidewalk outside are fine for watching shoppers plod into Ross and Play It Again Sports.
Service at La Mantia is friendly and as quick as sandwich-making can be. I haven’t been there during the height of the lunch rush, but given the number of nearby offices it might be wise to phone orders in. I also discovered on a return visit that owner Bill Clark, who purchased La Mantia in 1997 from its original owner, hasn’t done much too change the store’s business model over the years. He did say, though, that sandwich sales have been the core strength of the business even as the grocery business hasn’t been quite as consistent.
During that return visit I chose an Italian sandwhich with mortadella, capicola, salami and ham. Like the prosciutto, the helpings of meat were generous. I still enjoy the prosciutto better, but that is more a matter of taste than anything else.
But the real treat on that return visit was the cannolis. To my knowledge, few places in Ventura sell cannolis (midtown’s Spaghetti Company is an exception). Although they are not on La Mantia’s menu, customers can order cannolis for $2 a piece as long as they call at least a day in advance so Clark has time to make the proper mixture. In addition to the cream and shell, La Mantia’s cannolis are topped with chocolate chips on one end and pistachios on the other. While they won’t help you when you take a quick detour to Poinsettia Plaza for lunch, they’re a fantastic treat if you plan ahead (party subs, meat and cheese trays and croissant platters are also available).