Being from New Jersey, where a gazillion old-school delis are right at my fingertips, I often find myself craving a good Italian sub. The perfect sub is like an antipasto stuffed inside bread -- with quality ingredients, it can't not be good. But not every deli meets the criteria. Luckily, just last week, I found what I was looking for at Raia's Italian Café and Market, the deli, market and full-service Italian eatery in the Heights.
Walking in the place is like love at first sight: dried pastas to your left, gelati to your right. (I'm tempted to go forward using only rhymes but in the name of all of our sanity, I'll stop myself here.) I am really feeling the old-school Italian market vibe of the restaurant. Anywhere that I can buy a giant canister of extra virgin olive oil, marinated roasted red peppers and a block of ricotta salata while I pick up my lunch or after I finish my dinner is the place for me. Did I mention I had to stop myself from buying a five-gallon jar of maraschino cherries? I have absolutely no reason for that many cherries (does anyone?), but it was just sooo damn pretty.
I had enjoyed dinner at Raia's a few times (they offer BYOB), but had yet to try out their sandwiches. During lunch hours, the restaurant serves up monster subs with a choice of side for $10. I was almost tempted to get the daily three-course lunch special (which at only $7.95 was a better deal), but my heart and my stomach were set on a hero. I chose a creamy caper-packed side Caesar salad (a standout in its own right) and the Italian, a salumi-packed delight stuffed with cheeses and fresh veggies.
Let's start with the meats. This wasn't your weakass slap-on-some-ham-and-salami-and-call-it-an-Italian kinda sub. There were four -- count em' -- four glorious, fatty, salty and delightful Italian meats stuffed into this thing. They layer in mortadella, soppressata, prosciutto and capicola. It's like singing a beautiful little song, isn't it? A beautiful little song about cured Italian pork.
Each salumi brought something to the
table sandwich...to the sandwich table. The mortadella is silky-smooth and peppery; the soppressata packs a subtle heat and a nice chew; the prosciutto is salty and fatty in all the right places; and the capicola finishes the quartet with a smoky, tender bite. Gah -- so good!
The meat gets packed into buttery, chewy Italian bread along two cheeses. Not only is there a tangy, nutty provolone, but a milky, fresh mozzarella is right by its side, melting in your mouth with each creamy bite.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
All of this is balanced by a sort of Italian-style pico de gallo. Diced tomatoes, spicy red onions and hot pepperoncini are added along with fresh, crisp, shredded lettuce. Finished with a drizzle of smooth, fruity, extra virgin olive oil and the mellow acidity of red wine vinegar, this Italian sub is a winner.
Now if only I'd had room for the eight or nine different types of gelato. Next time...