An addition to Ventura County’s foodie scene
By Michael Sullivan
As the summer rolls along in Southern California, bringing with it extreme heat in some places — up to 110 in Santa Clarita — and wretched humidity locally, the thought of spending time in an exotic location, especially one with relaxing temperatures and scenery, is especially refreshing. Now imagine the island of Crete, of the Greek islands (try not to think of Greece’s economic plight); there is a little village called Agia Roumeli. If you search for it on the Internet, it looks like that great escape many of us dream about but simply can’t afford to get to. But imagine this — a couple from the island of Crete, Dimitri and Daniela Koulakis (coo-la-kees), now live in Oxnard and has opened a cafe as homage to their families’ hometown, where fresh, locally grown, chemical-free and simplicity are the key ingredients.
When it comes to Ventura County and sandwiches, local restaurateurs seem to fancy ethnic foods more than classic sandwiches, with the exception of hamburgers. With only a handful of sandwich shops to choose from — even the chain eateries are in seemingly short supply — Rou-Meli owners entered the foodie market at the right time and place, given that the low-carb fad isn’t so hot right now and the view and sound of the fountain outside the Financial Plaza Tower makes for an overall serene experience. In search of a new place and a good sandwich, Rou-Meli was a no-brainer.
In the small strip mall along Vineyard Avenue adjacent to the financial tower, Rou-Meli is the first shop along the parking lot, next to the Habit Burger Grill — go figure. Inside, it has a more industrial feel, clean and contemporary, with tile floors, wood tables with small succulent centerpieces and stainless steel chairs and stools, a world map on one wall and on another a sculpture of holding hands, a replica of a similar art piece I found on a tombstone in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The overall atmosphere is rather soothing and a good choice for a workday lunchbreak.
with a truffle balsamic reduction on a French baguette, served with a side salad.
As for lunch — breakfast is served, too, but I haven’t been able to try it yet — having visited the restaurant twice already, among my companions and me, I have already had the pleasure of trying five different sandwiches, my first choice being my favorite so far: the Athena. Maybe it’s because the Greek goddess has always been my favorite, representing wisdom, war (I’m not really a warmonger though) and crafts. As for the sandwich, what’s not to love? Turkey, feta cheese, tomato, bell pepper, arugula, onion, garlic aioli glazed with a truffle balsamic reduction on a French baguette comprise a bold, balanced team that makes me regret trying anything else. But I digress — it’s really hard not to thoroughly enjoy most, if not all, of the options on the menu. For my second visit, I ordered the pastrami grilled cheese — panini-style with several hearty yet delicate slices of pastrami, white and yellow cheddar oozing out, though not so much as to overpower the meat, plus a generous lathering of tangy yellow mustard on thick pieces of sourdough. Is your mouth watering yet? Though the combination is rather traditional, the execution was memorable.
On our first trip, my companion chose the Cuban, panini-style with roasted pork, ham, pepper jack, American cheese, tomato and pickles with mayo and mustard on a French baguette. Again, it’s the traditional formula, but the Koulakis have the execution down to a science and the baguette — warm, soft on the inside with a toasted crust — perfecto! (My companion so enjoyed this sandwich he only begrudgingly ordered something different the second time around for the review.) On another trip, my two companions chose the Philly cheese steak with chopped steak, sautéed onion and green bell pepper, provolone with mayo on a French baguette, and the steak ’n’ bacon melt, with chopped steak, bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar, pepper jack, American cheese with garlic aioli on thick pieces of sourdough. After trying the pastrami, the Philly cheese steak and the melt, when asked what their favorite was, the answer was, simply, bacon. And for those vegetarians and vegans out there who might feel a bit left out, Rou-Meli has an assortment of meat-free salads, including the Truffle Balsamic and the Berry Good. I’m finding one can’t go wrong with the options at Rou-Meli. And while I am not a big coffee drinker, it has all the best espresso options one could want without the corporate feel.
The Cuban: Panini-style with roasted pork, ham, pepper jack, American cheese,
I was hard-pressed to find anything I didn’t like at Rou-Meli. My companions and I, however, keep talking about trying the PB&J, bacon, grilled-cheese but we haven’t been able to justify the caloric intake. One of these days, though … it’s an adventure worth taking, given how well Rou-Meli does everything else. And if this is how lunch is served in Agia Roumeli, it’s worth going the distance.