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La Villa Deli
Photograph by Tsutomu Fujita
Worth the Trip: Janet Schnetz (middle) of Fresno looks at a menu with her husband Byron (right) at La Villa Delicatessen in Willow Glen. Schnetz said she comes to the deli whenever she visits her relatives in San Jose.

Italian-Americans rave about La Villa's 'ravs'
By Jim Aquino

For many families in Willow Glen, the holidays aren't complete without fresh raviolis from La Villa Delicatessen, a Lincoln Avenue fixture since 1947.

The East Coast-style deli is known for attracting long lines of customers shortly before Christmas. Dave Bertucelli, who owns La Villa with his wife, Patty, says that on Dec. 23 and 24, a line of between 30 and 40 people always forms outside La Villa about an hour before the deli opens.

"It's packed because everyone wants their raviolis fresh," says Bertucelli, who adds that prosciutto, salami, lasagna, meatballs, cannoli and cucciddata, an Italian "Fig Newton," are also extremely popular at the deli during the holiday season.

"Cucciddata is a traditional Italian cookie that my grandparents, and probably every Italian's grandmother, used to make at Christmastime," Bertucelli says.

The filling inside a cucciddata consists of dried apricots, dates, raisins, figs, chocolate, hazelnuts, almonds and brandy.

But it's the raviolis that are the deli's most popular item, whether during or after the holidays. The "ravs"--which is what Bertucelli calls them for short--even attract customers from all over the country.

"There's a customer who comes from Oregon every year, about this time. He doesn't even have family here anymore--everybody's passed away," Bertucelli says. "But he drives down on a Saturday morning, picks up 30 boxes of ravs and drives back Sunday."

During the holidays, Bertucelli also receives a lot of orders for raviolis from parents with children who are attending college out of state.

"It's amazing how many of the parents will come in and say, 'I need a quart of ravs. I'm picking up my daughter or son at the airport, and I gotta have ravs in the car for them when they get here,'" Bertucelli says.

Like those college kids who yearn for the raviolis from their favorite old neighborhood deli, Bertucelli has been acquainted with La Villa since he was a boy. He remembers the first meal he bought at La Villa: a roast beef sandwich. La Villa was also the place where Bertucelli took his wife on their first date.

"My favorite thing was to get an enchilada and a turkey sandwich and dip the turkey sandwich in the enchilada sauce and cheese," Bertucelli says.

When he was a teenager, Bertucelli started having dreams of owning La Villa and suggested to the deli's then-owner, Ed Palestro, that he ask him to take over the business should he ever decide to retire. In 1988, Palestro retired. Whom did he call? Bertucelli, who was an assistant manager at Cosentino's market at the time.

"Ed said, 'Hey, do you still want to buy La Villa? I want to sell it to somebody who's local and will keep it as La Villa,'" Bertucelli says.

The Bertucellis' choice to keep alive La Villa's most beloved traditions, such as the fresh raviolis, has paid off well. For instance, in the Willow Glen Resident's "Best of 2000" issue, La Villa won two categories: "Best Sandwich" and "Best Deli."

"My wife has resurrected recipes from her grandparents and my grandparents," says Bertucelli, who explains that his deli makes meals that many Italian-American customers remember from their childhood. "It's nice to make things that people grew up eating and that they can't make anymore because a lot of the next generation just didn't learn how to do this stuff. They'll come in and say, 'Oh my God, I hadn't had that since Auntie So-and-So died, and she used to make 'em for us!' It just makes us feel proud to be able to bring back those memories for people."

La Villa Delicatessen
Address: 1319 Lincoln Ave.
Phone: 408.295.7851.
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Thursday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

This article was originally published in the December 12, 2001 issue of the Willow Glen Resident. Copyright 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

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