'Old school' approach at new Italian deli

November 4, 2011 8:44:32 PM PDT
Italian delis in Chicago are as common as potholes. Yet few offer much more than imported ingredients purchased elsewhere.

One new deli in the south loop is taking an "old school" approach to the Italian deli with some delicious results.

Just ask Giangreco. You can find prosciutt, manicott and plenty of sausage and gravy at joints from Harlem Avenue to Taylor Street. But finding homemade porchetta, handmade lasagna and an Italian beef sandwich that Mario Batali would approve of -- that's a different story.

Folks in the South Loop have known where to go for some time. And hate to break it to them, but the secret is out.

The porchetta kind of says it all. I mean, how many Italian delis in Chicago are seasoning pork belly with fennel, bay, pepper and coriander, then stuffing it with pork shoulder, rosemary and olive oil, roasting it until the skin is as crisp as a cracker. If that wasn't enough, they then chop that porchetta up into cubes, render the fat and crisp up the meat, stuffing it into a thick Labriola loaf with sliced provolone and pickled fennel. This "porchino" sandwich is one of several innovations at Panozzo's Italian Market in the South Loop, courtesy of John Asbaty - a former Trio and Alinea cook - who fell in love with simplicity.

"I started to cook on my time off and that's what I really found myself cooking. You know simple, simple food based on really really good ingredients. You know, raised by people who really care about what they're doing," said Asbaty.

Imagine having the courage to mess with our beloved Italian beef. High-quality beef chuck is seasoned with fennel, black pepper, coriander, rosemary and allspice, seared in a hot pan, then covered in a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions along with red wine and beef broth. It simmers for hours, until it literally falls apart. Tucking it into sturdy bread with homemade giardianera and dipping it in the jus (or not) is your choice. The key is that he's elevated a peasant dish.

"It's about the philosophy of just using what's around you and utilizing the farmers and producers that are closest to you and that are really producing food that is exceptional and you don't have to travel far to get it," Asbaty said.

That philosophy serves him well, whether he makes a vibrant seafood salad with thumb-sized chunks of calamari or decides to go old-school with a country lasagna coated in a bechamel sauce; meatballs as are good as anyone's nonna, but his more modern potato salad might look out of place on a red checkered tablecloth. Even sweets are special here: ricotta cheese sticks, lemon-thyme shortbread, amaretti and stunningly good chocolate chip cookies. Everything is made from scratch, with care, by pros.

"I want to respect the final product and I think the philosophy that we do use here respects that Italian philosophy as opposed to, you know, just using something because it's Italian or perceived as Italian," he said.

There are only a handful of tables in the deli, so seating is limited, but you can get everything to go, and believe me, it tastes just as good at home as it does in the store.

1303 S. Michigan Ave.
(312) 356-9966

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