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Tour de Sandwich Nominations

July 31, 2015

This could get ugly. July is almost done, and before you know it, summer will be over. Personally, I’m looking forward to fall. It’s my favorite time of the year for a host of reasons. But the time for the FLB summer tour is nigh.

In the beginning these fussy little tours were a way to sample some kind of foodstuff that was a regional specialty. So we started with apple cider donuts. Naturally there was a mini hot dog tour, a fish fry tour, and a mozzarella and melba tour. But we’ve also branched out a bit over the years to include things that are common in the region, even though they may not come from these parts. Those have included egg and cheese on a hard roll, soft serve ice cream, and disco fries, among others.

What we have never done is a tour of our Italian delis. One reason is because it’s just such a daunting task. But hey, we began to take on wings with a micro-regional tour of Troy’s offerings. So how hard could this be? Well, let’s find out.

Today, I announce the date of the next tour, and open up the floor for nominations.

So get your calendars out and block out Saturday, August 15. That’s when this madness will commence. The starting time will depend on the regional footprint and the hours of the beloved institutions we’ll visit.

I’m going to suggest that when starting out with a project this big, you begin in the place with the highest concentration of excellence. And in my mind, it’s hard to find a better focal point than the triangle of Cardona’s, Andy’s, and Ragonese.

That means on a tour of five different businesses, we’re left with deciding between just two.

Fiorello Importing on Western does good work.
Pellegrino on Central could be a contender.
Stella del Mare on Madison is beloved.

Maybe I’m missing something great in Albany, or maybe you would argue for one of the following.

Genoa is in Latham, that doesn’t count.
Via Fresca is in Guilderland, that’s out.
U Mundo E Ca is in Colonie.
Roma is in Latham too.
Bella Napoli is another Latham deli, but it’s distinguished by being a bakery, too.

I suspect Burnt My Fingers will make a pitch to bring the tour further north. I know he has a lot of love for the Roma in Saratoga Springs, but that may have to wait for a subsequent version of this tour. Of which there could be several. Because Schenectady is an amazing place for Italian delis too. And if you want to make the case that we should start in the Electric City, I’m all ears.

My guidance for those interested in attending this tour is that they assemble a team. One person taking down five sandwiches isn’t a good idea. Four person teams would be ideal. But teams should be arranged before the day of the event.

My working assumption is that each team will try to order an identical sandwich from place to place. That’s not to say that every team will have to order the same sandwich. My team will be getting the Italian mix. I could see a team of vegetarians entering this too. There could be a turkey team, or a chicken cutlet team. It’s up to you. But I would imagine that most folks would be getting some version of the Italian mix.

Again, if you have any thoughts here, I’d happily entertain them.

The goal of this, as always, is to try and find the best version of the form. While surely each beloved deli does something special, and has loveable qualities, we’re looking for a place that rises above the rest.

Will such a deli exist? Well, there’s only one way to find out. We’re going to eat them all. Hope you’re excited. Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2015 10:00 am

    I have a commitment for the 15th so am not going to be able to argue for the obviously superior Italian Mix from Roma in Saratoga. But it seems to me that since most delis are take-out only, you are going to have to go to a park to eat them and then what difference does it make where the sub came from? My recommendation would be to make this first sandwich event a meta-tour:

    Each participant (I also do not understand how the “teams” concept is going to work, because how are you going to compare them?) acquires one or more subs and brings it to the central location where they are then sliced and tasted. The fillings should be one category but other categories should be things like size, presentation, quality of roll which are consistent across turkey, vegetarian, Italian mix, what have you?

    This sets a benchmark from which you can branch out to other, more refined tastings as time goes on. Really, we’re talking about a life’s work here so let’s not try to bite off more than we can chew in the first go-round.

    • August 1, 2015 7:34 pm

      I like Otis’ idea, but is not an Italian mix dressed with oil and vinegar? The bread is going to absorb the dressing in transit, and the sandwich will be in a less than optimal state, with a soggy roll and/or a dry sandwich. I think these need to be eaten immediately after being made.

      I also agree the team thing may not work. Why not just order the same sandwich (or two varieties) at each establishment and then cut them up and each person gets an appropriate portion?

  2. Jack C. permalink
    July 31, 2015 10:25 am

    So you’re limiting to that small triangle and anything outside it is off limits? I have had Genoa quite a few times and enjoyed it. I also hear great things about the Roma in Latham (and SS), but you say they’re out because they’re in Loudonville and Latham, respectively. Is it just because they aren’t in that triangle? Otherwise I’m not sure why Genoa “doesn’t count.”

  3. boya3706 permalink
    July 31, 2015 10:32 am

    See you say tour de sandwich and then just indicate only Italian delis? Because if you’re talking sandwiches, I would recommend Little Anthony’s in Albany. They have an italian mix, but their sandwiches are fantastic. But they are NOT an Italian Deli, just a pizzeria with superior eggplant parm sandwich.

  4. July 31, 2015 10:59 am

    Sainatto’s is on New Scotland (corner with quail) down the street from Ragonese. You gotta try that one too since it is right there. They use bread from the bakery/deli on Central Ave (Nina’s?) and it is run by an old school Italian guy. Their meatball subs are pretty killer.

    You could always try DiBella’s as a point for compare/contrast too

    Also, will you do an Italian Mix at all places? I feel like that would really keep things on an even keel.

    Plus – the “Italian Mix” is an upstate NY thing I think – they don’t call them “Italian Mix” downstate, they call it something else.

    • Pam C. permalink
      July 31, 2015 9:37 pm

      I don’t know, I think Italian Mix is pretty universal. That’s what they’re called here in Southwest Florida, and everyone knows what it means.

      • buffsoulja permalink
        August 2, 2015 1:28 am

        They call it an “Italian Combo” downstate and New Jersey

  5. MikeH permalink
    July 31, 2015 11:31 am

    Of the three additional shops you list I have to give my vote to Pellegrino’s. They make a great sub but to keep Genoa out because it is in Latham seems a little restrictive. It’s only a 10 minute drive over Osborn Road to Route 9 from Pellegrino’s. However, I could see a Latham/Colonie micro-regional tour in the future – Genoa, Roma, Bella Napoli, Positano’s, U Mundo E Ca?

  6. phairhead permalink
    August 2, 2015 7:17 pm

    Just to chuck my 2 cents in: In Sch’dy/Rotterdam area there is a holy place that serves sandwiches made from the hands of God, Nikki P’s :D

  7. August 3, 2015 9:59 am

    What about Fiorello’s Bakery and Deli? I was always curious about what the difference between the two were and how two Fiorello’s ended up on that block. We always get subs from the bakery since they make their own bread.

    • EPT permalink
      August 3, 2015 1:19 pm

      Why is Andy’s Importing on Delaware Ave. missing. Also, Pellegrino’s does a nice sub.

      • August 4, 2015 1:43 am

        Cardona’s, Andy’s, and Ragonese are the triangle at the core of Albany’s Italian sandwich scene. Those three were my top picks. The question at hand was how to fill in the other two spots.

  8. August 3, 2015 4:00 pm

    I’m not going to be helpful in deciding what’s including. But I want in on this tour. I don’t even need a team, I’ll eat those sandwiches all by myself.

  9. albanylandlord permalink
    August 4, 2015 1:34 am

    I agree with the suggestion to bring the subs to a central location and cut them into pieces. While not perfect it seems like a pretty good solution to many of the problems. This mirrors how they are almost always eaten ( no room in the shop so they are taken somewhere), and I agree that a little soaking in the dressing is not a big deal and might even be a positive. This could also allow for more places, or more distant ones.

    I like the idea of testing the italian mix, although I wonder how much difference there will be, I think most everyone is using Boar’s head for the meat aren’t they? My favorite sub from Andy’s has raw eggplant slices in it, but I don’t know how to compare that to other places… If there are a lot of people we should try some other varieties I think.

    Let me know if you need any help.

  10. Kim permalink
    August 4, 2015 1:32 pm

    Italian mix is the only sub I ever order. Andy’s makes a great one but I tend to prefer Lucia’s To Go in Rotterdam. For me it’s all about the ratio of bread to meat to spice to oil and they do it just perfectly! I get mine to go and travel all the way back to Amsterdam with it and the bread withstands the oil, even makes it better…dripping goodness!

  11. August 4, 2015 3:35 pm

    Since I have to be out of town for the Harney’s Tea festival that day I’m pissed. Pissed I say!!!

    But that won’t stop me from recommending Pellegrino’s and arguing for Roma or Via Fresca. Pellegrino’s would keep the tour geographically tight so that you could have one outlier, and either Roma or Via Fresca would be just about the same outlying distance. Via Fresca is a relatively new kid in town, so it would be interesting to see what their take is, and Roma – well how can you have a tour of Italian delis and not have Roma in it?

    Also, you MUST have subsequent tours – one of Troy and one of Schenectady at the very least, so we’re talking about at least three annual tours.

    As far as the team idea goes, I like it for the purpose of making sure that no single person has to eat too many sandwiches. It’s supposed to be a pleasurable experience and no one wants to feel horrible after the tour. As for the idea of either taking them to a central location or slicing and eating them immediately after receiving them, this will take a lot of thought to iron out. Exactly what central location being an important question unless someone volunteers their home, and are we talking about people standing in the parking lot to taste the sandwich right away? What if it rains?

    As for the question about tasting an Italian mix for the sake of comparison: I’m always surprised at how different they taste – it’s part of the fun of ordering one. But certainly a second sandwich could be ordered that would be more random – just scoring would be more difficult. If the second sandwich is the same also, I’d go for meatball, which would reveal an amazing amount of difference.

  12. Sara A permalink
    August 5, 2015 2:39 pm

    Sovrana’s in Albany should be on this list. I always get solid sandwiches there

  13. chezjake permalink
    August 5, 2015 5:23 pm

    I think this should be called a “Tour de Sub” or “Tour de Italian Sandwich” and that you should hold a subsequent “Tour de non-Italian Sandwich.” The latter would give greater latitude for testing a deli’s or butcher shop’s craft, since some cure their own hams, roast their own beef and turkey, or make their own corned beef and pastrami.

    And, while we’re on the subject of sandwiches, why doesn’t anyone make a rye hard roll?

    • EPT permalink
      August 6, 2015 7:23 am

      chezjake,
      While not strictly a rye hard roll, I make a nice rye brioche roll with a mix of KAF white rye flour and bread flour. Very good flavor and texture.

  14. August 7, 2015 7:06 pm

    Pellegrino should be on your list. Have you decided finally who to check out? Wish I could join you!

  15. August 8, 2015 12:59 pm

    Oh, Boo, I am going to miss this one. My vote would be for Fiorello’s – admittedly I can’t speak to their sandwiches myself, but they were a staple for Chris when he worked at UAlbany.

    My favorite sandwich shop in the area is Genoa, but you set a bright line, and I can understand why.

  16. August 9, 2015 12:41 pm

    I have to say, the best sandwich I’ve found in the area so far was at Genoa’s.

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