When I was a baby troop on my first overseas tour, at Misawa AB in Japan, I had a regular date in the form of a guy that Jenny bequeathed to me. Jenny was my friend simply because we were the only two women in the barracks who worked shifts. She was about to rotate out; her tour was up and she was going home.
She also added, by way of convincing me to consider him as a regular date, “A nice guy, he’s a gentleman and he’s always good for a meal, he’s Baby Deleo.”
There was only one intelligent response to this. “Huh?”
“My gosh, nobody ever told you about DeLeo’s Deli? Him and his two roommates in the Navy barracks, they run a delicatessen out of their room, every night after 4:30. They even deliver, within the building.”
“This, I have to see,” I said, and Jenny walked over with me to introduce me to Baby Deleo.
The Navy had the largest barrack on Misawa AB at that time; a huge, thousand-person dorm. Although three and four people shared each room, each room had a private bathroom attached. Jenny and I were frankly envious. The Air Force barracks all had gang latrines. From the top of the third flight of stairs we could smell pastrami: yes, indeed the Navy had more than private bathrooms to boast of in the way of civilized comforts.
The room door was open. Just inside, a chest of drawers had been moved away from the wall to make a counter, on which stood an old-fashioned brass-plated adding machine. A framed menu hung on the wall. Inside the room a pair of crockpots bubbled gently next to the electric sandwich grill parked on top of several cases of sodas. The Deli was open for another night of business.
Baby Deleo was a short, twentyish Puerto Rican New Yawker. His real first name was Nelson – I nicknamed him “Admiral” and regularly convulsed habitues of the NCO club by calling “Hey, Admiral!” across the room at him. The other roomies and business partners were both taller, and called themselves Mama Deleo and Papa Deleo. Mama Deleo’s mustashe was not quite as luxuriant, but he had more tattoos than Papa Deleo.
Jenny introduced me all all around, and the guys invited us in for a bowl of chili. We ate it at a round table covered with a red-checked tablecloth. The guys even remembered the obligatory melted-candle-stuck-in-the-chianti-bottle for decoration. While we ate, a whole procession of other customers came to the counter to order sandwiches and chips, chili and soft drinks. It was a busy, well-organized and profitable little enterprise. La Familia Deleo all flew with different aircrews, so at least two of the three were always off-duty. They had a friend on permanent CQ, in case of authority making a sudden appearance. Upon being warned, they could get the whole enterprise under wraps in the time it took for someone to climb three flights of stairs.
“We move all the food and the crockpots into the bathroom, and one of us runs the shower, ” Mama Deleo explained.
“And no one at the commissary ever wonders why you are going out with two or three cartloads a week?” I asked.
“Nope, ” said Papa. “Want some more chili?”
“I’ll take the recipe,” I answered, and so here it is:
VP-46 (DeLeo’s Deli) Chili
Combine in a large crockpot:
2 Very large cans Denison chili & beans (24 or 36 oz)
1 14-oz can kidney beans
1 chopped onion
3 chopped green peppers
2 can sliced mushrooms
2 cans jalapeno relish
chili powder to taste. Heat until vegetables are cooked through. While this is far from the best chili in the world, it is the best created by three guys in a barracks room.