Demi's Deli: Sandwich Safari

Demi's Deli goes on the range and brings back wild game

One of the more unpleasant ways to die in Australia is to hit a kangaroo while driving through the outback. The split second before collision will often be enough for the beast to jump, clearing the hood but smashing through the windshield. Should the driver survive the initial impact, his last earthly sensation is likely to be that of being kicked repeatedly in the face by the muscle-bound hind legs of the panicked marsupial.

A far more agreeable way to get a mouthful of kangaroo is to visit Demi's Deli (7355 Chapman Highway). Tucked away in the corner of a melancholy strip mall smeared across the thin margin of forest that buffers concrete and smog, the deli is easy to miss. Yet its counter proves the entrance to a carnal Narnia in which the Antipodes are but one source of meaty exotica.

Oddly, the deli goes to some lengths to conceal its more recherché options, and the official menu gives the impression that middle-of-the-road lunch fare is its only aspiration. Demi's acquits itself admirably here, although once again marks must be docked for plastic cutlery and Styrofoam plates. Society must stop meekly accepting these appalling instruments: They are as jarring to the senses as listening to a symphony over a phone line or embracing a courtesan in sackcloth.

It's the presence of just one lone vegetarian option among some 24 sandwich types that offers up a small footprint of a clue for the wild-game hunter. The roast beef cheddar melt is decent, fresh, and hearty, and like all dishes it's served with a choice of four cheerful, homemade sides including a first-class coleslaw. A little more extreme but equally enjoyable is the Cowboy, a Kaiser roll greedily stuffed with barbecue beef brisket, roast beef, and bacon. If this strikes you as raising the body count a little unnecessarily, then the further reaches of our protein safari may not be for you.

For it is here that the cognoscenti, the initiated, the elect, must step forward. Asking for something off the menu requires a touch of gumption at the best of times. When the item in question sounds like an endangered species, only those with true grit can see it through. Anything less than a ramrod-straight backbone when inquiring after game reduces one to feeling like a gangly 19-year-old trying to get invited to a swingers party.

The game on offer varies each day and is flown in from a specialist supplier in Utah. Buffalo, rabbit, and wild boar are regular guests, but today we greet the alligator, the blackened tenderloin of whom arrives in a wrap with Cajun mayonnaise. He's moist but he's chewy—too chewy, really—with something of the unyielding bounce of stewed pork about him. A lightly tangy flavor, yes, but not quite strong enough to combat the exceptionally piquant accompanying peppers. The wrap itself, though, is well-made; light and soft and warm.

And the kangaroo? As you will recall, gentle reader, kangaroo meat can sometimes be a little "high." This farm-raised hind-leg meat, however, is perfectly rendered. It has the flavor of top-quality mutton, and the pleasing density of a good kidney. Famously, of course, kangaroo is not only one of the most environmentally sound meats one can consume but also among the lowest in fat. Served here with spinach, tomato, onion, cucumber, corn, mushroom, sweet peppers and balsamic vinegar, the overall effect is of a delightful, perfectly-balanced lunch.

The husband-and-wife owners of Demi's are clearly enthusiasts, passionate and knowledgeable about delicatessenry and charcuterie. It's hard to know, though, whether their more radical fare will serve to lure the curious or to repel the squeamish. I do hope the former. If you can bring yourself to eat an animal as ugly and terrifying as the chicken, then you can have few logical qualms about sustaining yourself with the soft-eyed splendors of the wild. m