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Tour de Italian Deli

August 10, 2015

Hold onto your bellies, because this Saturday the Tour de Italian Deli is coming.

Last week was the time for nominations, and I heard from an awful lot of people with thoughts on how the tour should work. For starters, the name has been clarified. We’re going to be checking out the region’s most beloved Italian delis to taste how their sandwiches stack up against each other.

There are decidedly two camps on this. Some people think sandwiches dressed with oil and vinegar improve with time, as their bun absorbs some of the moisture, and that camp is in favor of a tasting. But I’m squarely in the camp that disagrees, and this is why I’m taking this project on as a tour.

Granted, if this first outing is a success, this will be the beginning of a multiyear effort. But as noted by a few commenters, this tour will not be without its challenges. So we’ll see how it goes. One thing I know for certain is that it will be delicious.

After a lot of thought and taking into consideration some of your input, here’s how it’s going to work. I’m still going to encourage people to come with a team in tow. If you cannot secure a team, don’t worry, we can assemble individuals into teams on the day of the tour. Each team will order the same sandwich at each location. I’m going to be on the Italian mix team, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a roast beef team, or a prosciutto and provolone with roasted red pepper team, or a chicken cutlet team, or even a sausage pepper and onion team.

My expectation is that most will want to evaluate the Italian mix, but even there we may have some variations regarding toppings.

As with all tours, we’ll visit the shops in sequence, order the food, eat it on the spot, fill out the score sheets and move on. The tour will move forward, rain or shine. Would it be more comfortable to bring all the subs to a central location? Sure. But then everyone would miss the best part of the Italian deli experience, and that’s the sights and smells of the delis themselves.

From the beginning, these tours have always been about pursuing the answer to a question. They are activities I would gladly do on my own, but as fate would have it, these several hour eating binges are more fun when I bring a group of people along.

I’m going to bring a cutting board, a bread knife, a digital scale, a roll of paper towels, and a trash bag. I’d encourage other teams to do the same. Just in case, I’m also going to bring a folding table and a pop up 10 x 10 canopy that I hope we won’t have to use. It’s also probably wise to bring plenty of water and an umbrella if it looks like it might rain.

If you are on a team with friends, I’m sure you can figure out how to split the costs of the food equitably. If you are coming on your own, please make sure to bring plenty of small bills, so nobody gets stuck holding the cheese toast.*

The scoresheets will look familiar to those who have been on a prior FUSSYlittleTOUR. We’ll be evaluating common criteria on a 1 to 5 scale. Those criteria will include bread, meat, toppings, value, and the overall experience of the sandwich.

That’s all well and good, but you probably want to know who made the cut.

Let’s be clear. This first tour is the Albany edition. I’m not sure which round will come next, but we clearly need a suburban outing and a Schenectady/Rotterdam excursion. But let’s focus on the here and now.

Fiorello’s Bakery and Deli Importing and Luigi’s Deli will lead us off. It got a nod in the nomination process and is a staple for the University at Albany crowd. It also happens to be right across the street from DiBella’s which had the incredible chutzpah to challenge this five-star Italian deli on its home turf. I’ve never had a sandwich here, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they stack up. Plus, since they have tables outside, it’s a great place to assemble, figure out teams, and begin this grand outing.

Then it’s off to Ragonese. This standalone shop on New Scotland has a tremendous following. It’s the definition of a neighborhood institution, and is widely regarded as being among one of the best Italian sandwiches in the area.

At the center point of the tour, we’re heading to the DelSo. First to Andy’s and then Cardona’s. These mark stops two and three of the Albany Italian sandwich holy trinity.

After the incredible support the shop received in the nominations, Pellegrino’s on Central Avenue has to be the closer. I’m a little shocked at its relative popularity given that it was entirely off my radar up until a couple months ago. But we’ll see how it stands up to the big boys.

It all begins at 11am sharp. Pellegrino’s closes at 4pm, so we can’t drag this out for too long. But since the driving is minimal that shouldn’t be a problem.

All I need to know is how many people are coming so I can print out enough scoresheets. It’s going to be one helluva day of meats and cheeses. But swimsuit season is just about over for the year. So let’s get out there and determine whose sandwich skills reign supreme. If I have to, I’ll do it on my own, but I’d love some company.

So who’s in?

*It’s an inside joke. I’ll share tomorrow.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2015 10:44 am

    Do you really mean Fiorello’s Bakery and Deli? That store front does not have tables out front, the Fiorello’s Importing and Luigi’s Deli next to DC’s has the tables out front. The Bakery and Deli does have a few tables inside though.

    • August 10, 2015 9:15 pm

      Thanks for the catch. We were talking about Fiorello’s Importing and Luigi’s Deli the whole time. I have no idea how Fiorello’s Bakery and Deli snuck in there. I will make the correction above.

  2. August 10, 2015 1:14 pm

    Wish I could be there… unfortunately, I’ll be out of town. I think we’re grabbing sandwiches from Ragonese in a few minutes, so that’ll slightly mitigate my disappointment. ;) One local sandwich that I think is consistently underrated (and at a place not part of the tour) is the Supreme Hero at Sovrana. People tend to think of Sovrana as a college place, but it’s actually a pretty damn good little deli/pizza establishment. In any event, hope all goes well… with that variety of great places to visit, I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t!

  3. August 10, 2015 7:30 pm

    You should be aware that Saturday at Pelligrino’s is exceptionally busy so please plan accordingly.
    I grew up almost next door to this place and it is still, by far, my all time favorite. Just giving you a little neighborhood insiders tip ;)

  4. albanylandlord permalink
    August 11, 2015 7:45 pm

    I’m a little confused about how we will eat at the shops that don’t have any seating, Andy’s comes to mind. Sitting on the sidewalk? in our cars? If we have a good sized group even the sidewalk could get difficult. I’m checking with the Boss to see if I am free.

    • August 11, 2015 11:44 pm

      I have a feeling it’s going to be a small group. My plan was to treat the quarter sandwiches like street food and eat standing up. But to each their own. If you want to sit on the sidewalk, I won’t stop you. I’ll try to remember to bring some hand sanitizer.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      August 13, 2015 12:17 am

      I’m in, the Boss said yes.

  5. Kristen permalink
    August 13, 2015 11:32 pm

    Check Pellegrino’s website for Saturday hours during the summer. Looks like 3pm closing, not 4.

  6. Stve P permalink
    August 17, 2015 11:05 am

    I agree with the previous poster who mentioned Sovrana’s Italian sub as one of the best in the area. I also think the exclusion of Sainato’s Super Sub is a major oversight.

  7. August 18, 2015 11:23 am

    Thanks for having my back Stve!

    • August 18, 2015 11:56 am

      I’d be happy to do a little echo-tour of Sovrana’s, Sainato’s and Stella Del Mare with buffsoulja and one other person at a date TBD. Going threesies on three sandwiches would be easy. And now with the baseline knowledge of how each of the five places performed, it wouldn’t be hard to see how these shops would stack up.

      But this is the point of having a nomination process. If there were more voices for Sovrana’s and Sainato’s, they could have made the cut.

  8. buffsoulja permalink
    August 19, 2015 4:59 pm

    For the record, Sainato’s isn’t as good as Ragonese or Andy’s, but I think the subs are better than Cardona’s. But it’s just so conveniently located inside the Deli Triangle that it seemed like it should be included. I did think they made a real good meatball sub though. I liked that the bread was fresh. AND judging from his heavy accent, the owner seems to be “off-the-boat” Italian.

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