Saturday, March 24, 2007

Peterson Family Foods Deli

Petersons Family Foods Deli
(formerly Sherman IGA)
1211 E. Sherman Ave.
Coeur d’Alene

A trip to the deli area at Sherman IGA in Coeur d’Alene is a trip back in time. It’s one of those rare local spots that is pleasingly untouched by the grip of modernization. In fact, I’d bet most of the owners of the upscale boutiques and exclusive galleries that seem to be crawling their way up Sherman avenue consider Sherman IGA to be outdated urban blight, and they’d love to see it burn to make way for maybe a nice little high-rise of condos and offices.

Other, more corporate grocery delis in town have bigger selections, trendier items, cleaner, more updated looks and little personality. None offer the historic, "hometown proud" experience that good old IGA serves up. Of course, technically it's not a restaurant, you've got to eat your takings at home, but the food here is certainly worth discussion.

I grew up in the increasingly rough neighborhood where the old IGA is located and I’ll admit that shopping there can be risking your life at times. When I was about 12 or so my mother and I hid shivering behind a mayonnaise display as the store was being robbed. It takes a certain type of person to shop there, adventurous, unafraid of society’s fringe, or the body odor of the homeless junkie. It’s the kind of place you really want to hit in the mid-morning when it feels safest, and the friendly long-time staff and management will make you feel like you just got home to old friends. You might run into an old teacher from high-school, the friendly postman, your dear Aunt Betty. However, be warned - when the sun goes down the place carries a whole different vibe – it turns into an edgy hotspot for meth moms in recovery, drunk college boys, and munchie-afflicted emo kids. On hot summer nights, the parking lot swelters with intensity, heavy metal music blaress out of high-revving Corvettes.

Like the rest of Sherman IGA, the deli area has seen little cosmetic change in at least 25 years. The mainstay here is the world-famous “Chester Fried” chicken. I was curious to know exactly what made a chicken “Chester Fried” versus just plain old fried, and a Google search turned up some interesting tidbits. The company website lists only a few dozen places nationwide where you can get this delicacy, but oddly there’s no mention of Sherman IGA. How did they manage to drop off the official Chester radar, I wonder? Is the big 70’s-ish sign they display just a ruse, a leftover from better days? Are they actually peddling some kind of bootleg knock-off of Chester Fried Chicken? Is it just another of IGA’s many dark secrets? Where does that leave the jo-jo’s? All besmeared with blood-like ketchup?

Well, I think they’re getting it down pretty close at least, since the trick behind Chester’s is in the unique moisturization process that renders that sinful, highly caloric chicken breast so juicy and irresistibly tender inside that greasy, thick crunchy shell so flavorful and artery-clogging. These chickens must have been huge beasts when they roamed the earth – these giant fried chicken parts make KFC pieces look Barbie doll size. It’s likely not a healthful idea to indulge in the Chester action more than every once in a while, but when the craving hits, there’s only once place in town that has it and god bless them for it.

Also heavenly are the BBQ spareribs, delicious and always cooked to falling-off-the-bone perfection, although they are on the spendy side (for this place at least). I have tried the roasted chicken, and it wasn’t bad, just average, and not as much fun as killing yourself with the fattier fried version. IGA also offers huge jo-jos, chicken strips and old-school beef and bean burritos – the kind you usually can only find at middle-of-nowhere gas stations. Cheap, filling, and always an interesting gastrointestinal experience.

Move on over to the deli cooler for more retro action. I love the raspberry jell-o chunks mixed with sugary pink froth. Or the “Ambrosia salad” (secret recipe: canned mixed fruit and cool whip). Then there’s the mean green mystery substance simply labeled “pistachio crème” which shares nothing at all in common with its namesake nut other than its unexplainable addictiveness. Not everything here is my favorite. There’s the joyless “five bean salad” swimming in some kind of bland, oily dressing; a plethora of potato and macaroni salads, all including those damn little red pepper chunks I always have to pick out. Is it a pimento, maybe? I won’t eat them. I think the “Mustard Potato Salad” is free of the evil buggers, but could use another squirt of the yellow stuff to liven it up a tad.

There are gourmet desserts like tapioca, glompy chocolate pudding, and some type of layered raspberry/cool whip/angel cake parfait concoction that looks like it came right out of the pages of the Betty Crocker 1974 Edition cookbook. There’s the usual deli assortment of prepackaged sliced cheeses and meats, and maybe it’s just the bad lighting to blame, but there’s something a bit off about the pallor of the roast beef. Is there such a color as “electric brown”? It looks quite a bit more appetizing when coupled with some cheddar in one of the perfectly fine pre-made sandwiches, but if you’re like me you’ll want to grab an extra mayonnaise packet – they’re a bit on the dry side.
I’d recommend sticking with the main attraction, but do try to arrive early for your Chester Fried fix. There have been a few times when I’ve stood in line behind ladies that buy enough of the stuff to feed the whole church and by the time I make it to the counter, nothing remains but Chester Fried crumbs at the bottom of the deli case. After a certain time of day, they will refuse to make more, even if you threaten a hold-up. They’re not that easily fazed around here.

Note: Since publication, the place has been renamed Petersons Family Foods and is basically the same, save for the tiniest bit of rearranging. As one of the cashiers there told me "the crackheads still come out at night..."


OrangeTV said...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the levity provided in your article of March 24th in the Business Journal. As native
Coeur d'Aleneites, my co-worker and I got a real kick out of your honesty in the article. Having worked at a law office just a block away from IGA for 8 years, it has been a place where we often have to go for a quick bite. The similarities in our opinions of the food as you describe it is uncanny. Again, thank you for the honest, very well written article!
1:39 PM

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