[Hole In the Wall] Do the Jerky at Celestino's Meats
Do the Jerky
Man, is it packed in here! More than 30 types of sausages stacked so tightly in standup freezers you fear opening the door lest your last view be an avalanche of cured animal flesh. Deli trays containing multiple skewers of ready-to-cook kabobs. Signs, boxes, cans, bags of bread—it’s the Lower East Side crammed into a ritzy Costa Mesa strip mall, a place perfect for the coming football season. Did I mention they make killer beef enchiladas? They do.
Celestino’s is probably best known for jerky, dried in-house and sold by the pound or in small bags that you’ll eventually realize are insufficient. I’ve never been big on desiccated meats—too many strands get stuck in my teeth—but taste-testing the nine varieties convinced me to buy half-pounds of each. Texas-style spicy causes sweat on the brow; the marinade in the carne-asada version spreads slowly across your palate like the best carne asada. Maui jerky seeps with soy after a few bites; buffalo is naturally lean. And that venison—curiously spicy, slightly gamy, wonderful. Regardless of your choice, each gnarled, long piece keeps bits of dried fat, is chewy and will eventually become as succulent as the finest fillets.
Celestino’s sells sandwiches, of course, of the build-your-own variety (kudos for offering liverwurst, a meat cut that’s going the way of white people in Orange County) and a couple of standards—roast beef, Philly cheesesteak, New York steak. The sausage-and-peppers sandwich has the best tomato sauce I’ve tasted in the genre, a sweet, thick beauty redolent of basil. Just one somewhat-disturbing note: When ordering my sausage-and-peppers, I saw the cook open a prepackaged meal, microwave the tray, then dump the contents into a loaf before handing it to me. Don’t get me wrong—I’d pick this sandwich over any of its OC peers. But freshly made this was not.
In that sense, Celestino’s needs to be careful with branding—the name is on almost everything at the store, from chocolate-covered pretzels to dried mangoes to hard chocolate chip cookies I tossed into the Dumpster after just two bites. They’re better-served focusing on their stated goal of selling signature meats instead of competing with grocery stores (seriously, what’s the need with fresh produce when Mother’s Market is just up the street?). But who am I to question a business when I’m guilty of munching a pound of their venison in just a day?
Celestino’s Meats, 270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-7191; www.celestinosjerky.com.
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