Call ’em heroes, sandwiches, subs. Call ’em perfect for lunch, ideal for dinner, an awesome snack. Here are our five favorite Italian delis in the city, all of which sell terrific heroes / sandwiches / subs. But, please, don’t take our word for it — go forth and try them all! By Jessica Allen.
Here’s what you need to know about Defonte’s: it’s full name is actually Defonte’s of Brooklyn. It’s located on Staten Island. And it’s been in the same family for several generations. The simple menu boasts cold and hot sandwiches (medium or large), plates, sides, and beverages. Among our favorites are the Fire House Special (roast pork, broccoli rabe, fried eggplant, provolone, and gravy), the Dino (meatballs, mozzarella, and sauce), and the Nicky Special (mushrooms, salami, fried eggplant, provolone, lettuce, capicola, ham, tomato, and oil and vinegar).
Close your eyes and imagine a deli. What do you see? Cured meat hanging from the wall? Formica tables? Nonnas stocking up for the weekend? Gentlemen in white coats ready to serve you? Now think about the smells. Lots of fennel? Garlic? Red sauce? Pesto? Faicco’s Italian Specialties has been around for eight decades, and is pretty much the platonic ideal of Italian delis. The aptly named Italian Special features provolone, ham, and salami, along with liberal glugs of oil and vinegar.
“It’s not just a store . . . it’s an experience” — anywhere else, and we’d call such a motto pure marketing. At Lioni Italian Heroes, however, you can choose from more than 150 different types of cleverly named sandwiches: the Frank Sinatra includes fresh mozzarella and salami topped with salt, pepper, oregano, and olive oil; while the Bensonhurst Special combines hot capicola with American or jalapeno cheese and a hot stuffed pepper and the Pavarotti is a meatball parmigiana hero worth singing about, for sure.
Forget about Little Italy. Well, OK, don’t forget about it, but don’t assume it’s the city’s only worthwhile Italian neighborhood. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is definitely worth a trip. The area abounds with bakeries, delis, cured meat emporiums, and cafes. The family-owned Mike’s Deli has deep roots in the community, with grandparents on both sides working as butchers, farmers, and shopkeepers. Here you can nosh on freshly made pastas, sauces, and breads, along with cheeses, marinated veggies, fish, sausages, soppressata, all kinds of sweets, and, of course, sandwiches.
If we could, we’d have lunch at Sergimmo Salumeria every day. This small restaurant near Penn Station offers a great selection of sandwiches, including the Marche (Italian salami, mozzarella, arugula, and artichokes) and the VIP (mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, Arcadian mix, olive oil, and — the special ingredient — fig spread). There are plenty of paninis too. You can also get your cured meats, olives, and cheeses by the pound — perfect for those long trips out of the city. “It’s not a diet,” reads the menu. “It’s a lifestyle.” We couldn’t agree more.