New deli bakes in tradition

At Panzanella Bakery & Deli, you won’t find smoked turkey or alfalfa sprouts. And don’t expect to pull a chair up to a table. There aren’t any — of either.

But judging from the steady stream of customers during its opening week, all of that is just fine with Hood River’s lunch crowd.

After nine months of whispered anticipation — and a complete make-over of the building at 102 5th Street — Panzanella opened Monday, bringing a new choice to the city’s day-time dining scene.

“There wasn’t a true Italian bakery or deli in town,” said co-owner Matt Botti. “We felt that was something that was needed.” Panzanella — which is the name of an Italian bread salad — is the joint venture of Botti and Abruzzo Italian Grill co-owners Glen Pearce and Mark DeResta. Pearce’s son, Mark, is manager of the deli. Although it’s not affiliated with the popular restaurant, the deli features DeResta’s flair with Italian cuisine.

“It’ll have (DeResta’s) signature on it,” Pearce said. The deli features a variety of fresh-made sandwiches and salads, as well as calzones and pizza — although the latter is not the focus, according to DeResta.

“We’ll make a couple of (pizzas) and when they’re gone, they’re gone,” he said. Like any good Italian deli worth its salami, there are plenty of delights like specialty olives and marinades as well as home-made spreads for bread. The bakery, which opens at 7 a.m., also offers a variety of light breakfast items, including sweet breads, fritatta and paninis.

The bread itself takes center stage at Panzanella, with Botti as director and producer. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Botti has been a baker for nine years. He specializes in “artisan” baking, using natural leavening and long fermentation time.

“We use no commercial yeast in our dough,” said Botti, who also bakes all his bread with organic flour made in Oregon. The dough’s long fermentation — up to 20 hours — produces a better flavor, he said.

With its more rustic look — including a hard, thick crust and rich coloring — artisan bread “leans toward old world,” Botti said. Botti and his partners are so serious about their bread that they installed a genuine Tibiletti Italian brick oven in the bakery.

Botti bakes more than a half-dozen “daily” breads — ranging from focaccia to ciabatta to olive levain — as well as several specialty breads which vary each day. Different breads are paired with DeResta’s creations for the deli sandwiches. Loaves and baguettes are available, too, as are squares and wheels of cheese and sticks of salami and other meats.

“People can come and grab a loaf of bread, some meats and cheese and go have their own picnic,” Botti said. “Or they can grab something already made. We’re just trying to keep it simple.”

The lack of chairs and tables is part of that philosophy. There are several counters where people can stand and munch, but the focus is on “grab and go,” Botti said. Panzanella’s owners aim to please the local crowd — from business people looking for a quick bite to boardheads wanting to grab a sandwich on the go.

“We’ll take the tourists, too,” Botti said. “But we really want to cater to the locals.” Just don’t come here looking for bagels.

“This is strictly Italian,” DeResta said. “We’re not making Reubens.”

Panzanella Bakery and Deli is located on the corner of 5th and Cascade streets, and is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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