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A Helluva Italian Sub at Raia's Italian Cafe and Market

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.

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...


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