DeLeo’s Deli

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.

17 thoughts on “DeLeo’s Deli”

  1. Pretty well, actually – although he was just one of my regular dates, Tatyana. The VP sqadron was there for a six-month rotation, they were all geographic bachelors and most of them were nice guys; just regular companions for dinner-ana-movie. Most of us single AF women maintained a rotating stable of regular dates – most of the ones I had understood perfectly well that I had a serious regular boyfried back in the States, and they usually had a serious girl (or sometimes a wife!). This worked out well for both of us, uncomplicated social companionship being the name of the game.

  2. For a Texan to give a chili recipe from Japan is high praise for that recipe!

    I was surprised that (A) the Navy had better barracks than the Air Force – during my short Army stint we marveled at the Air Force Barracks (on Army Bases) that seemed like Hilton Hotels, comparatively speaking!

    My first barracks in Germany was a condemned old WW2 Luftwaffe barracks – foundation was crumbling and the entire building has a list “list” to it!

    2nd, I was surprised that the powers that be, the NCOs, let them have that enterprise although they probably ate there too ;-)

  3. “This worked out well for both of us, uncomplicated social companionship being the name of the game.” I find this interesting and delightful. I wonder if it happens like that today.

  4. That’s an unusual mmm…relationship? interaction? On the other hand, I am completely clueless on the topic of American dating conventions, so everything sounds strange to me.
    Perhaps, I need to clarify. “Uncomplicated social companionship” is not strange, calling your pals “dates” is.
    I it was me, I’d just say – I had several buddies who kept me company whenever one of us wanted to have a dinner and a movie in our free time. If, in fact that’s all it was – dinner and a movie. Actually, I myself have many acquaintances in this category – I hope they don’t consider themselves my dates! Wouldn’t want any misunderstanding.

    Isn’t chili supposed to have some sort of meat, too?

  5. O.K. everyone has their own take on chili (meat vs no-meat, beans vs no-beans), but I have an unusual question. What to eat with or in chili? This decision, like the recipe choices, seems to have a geographic distinction. In some places it is saltine or oyster crackers, other places cornbread, or sour cream and cheese. Or any combination. Growing up, my school cafeteria served peanut butter sandwiches to dunk in your chili; it sounds gross but it is actually very tasty and I still do this today.

    Of course, we have Skyline Chili in Ohio, which is a whole different beast altogether.

    What are the opinions of the Chicago Boyz?

    I really enjoyed the story. I imagine everyone being in the same boat makes it easier to have those arrangements for companionship. Bet there were some broken hearts though.

  6. Bill, I know. Skyline or Gold Star is an acquired taste.

    Actually, tomorrow for lunch we are having Skyline followed by Graeter’s Ice Cream for my birthday. FYI, crushed oyster crackers in a 3-way with a skyliner.

  7. Jeff – for me good chili should come with onions and lots of corn bread. A good beer is optional – well to me almost necessary.

    Years ago I was in a neighborhood – complimented a guy on his nicely restored Triumph Tr6 sports car and after a bit of talking invited me to be a chili judge that day. The guy who was supposed to be the judge didn’t show up.

    It wasn’t as funny as this –

    But it was an entertaining afternoon – testing about 5 different recipes – at the “1st annual chilatheon”

    BTW the Texans take their hot spices seriously – years ago while stationed at Ft Bliss (El Paso) I went to a taco stand and started pouring their hot sauce on my taco – the vender looked at me a bit strange and got a laugh when I took my first bite –

    Point is what the Texans consider “hot chili” and what the rest of the country considers hot chili are probably 2 different animals ;-)

  8. Our way with chili is a cornbread muffin in the bottom of the bowl, ladle the chili over the muffin, then add a spoonful of sour cream and shredded cheese. Let it stand for a minute then mix with your spoon. A cold beer is a bonus.

  9. Although I am more of a Gold Star guy myself, you took the chili discussion to an entirely new plane when you brought up Skyline.

    I used to prefer Empress but haven’t had it in years. Camp Washington was absolutely the best before government interference ruined it. (he said, hopefully keeping the discussion on topic for the site… ;-)

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