It’s true — there really is a restaurant on just about every corner on the Hill, and about half of them are sandwich places. Each one has its own flavor, figuratively and literally: Amighetti’s features a short list of traditional sandwiches; Eovaldi’s has killer New-York style sandwiches; and Adriana’s is every cardiologist’s (delicious) nightmare with many menu items served on gooey, melty garlic cheese bread. All that fancy stuff is great, but sometimes I get a craving for something simple, and that’s when Gioia’s hits the spot.
When walking in the little corner shop for the first time, it can be intimidating if you hit it during the noontime rush. There’s usually a mass of humanity mobbed around the back counter where the sandwiches are made. Keep cool, plow through the hoard, and grab a number then step away from the slobbering crowd to check out the menu.
The house specialty is the Hot Salami ($7.00), which despite its name doesn’t really resemble salami in that it is not greasy, chewy or super salty. [Insert Beavis and Butthead joke here: "Huh huh, you said hot salami."] This homemade concoction of meat and spices is more like a round meatloaf, sliced on the thick side and served steaming on a slab of Fazio’s bread. Made your way with your choice of toppings, the hot salami is uber delicious with pepper cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers and a good squirt of spicy mustard. This is a sandwich you’ll have to protect with a baseball bat if you take it back to work with you.
Another standby is the Rich Boy ($6.50) — a traditional Italian sandwich of salami, roast beef and ham. Dress it up with veggies and cheese, and this baby is guaranteed to put Subway and other chains of its ilk to shame. A warning to fellow vinegar and oil freaks: Gioia’s actually uses Italian dressing, so it adds a different flavor to the sandwich than plain vinegar and oil. The menu is rounded out with a daily special (posted on the board next to the kitchen), soups and respectable salads. But really, who goes here to get a salad? If you time it just right, you might be able to score a Gladiator: hot salami, salsiccia and meatballs on toasted cheese bread. Order that and you will be eating salads all week to make up for it…but it’s so worth the temporary damage to your arteries.
Another reason why Gioia’s is worth tempting the train gods to get up Macklind hill is that, like many of the neighboring restaurants, Gioia’s is family-owned and they treat you like you’re part of their family. (Incidentally it’s actually the Donley family. Check out the story on the Gioia namesake here.) They may not know my name, but I always get a “Where have you been?” if it’s been more than a few weeks since my last visit. Go meet the family and eat some hot salami at Gioia’s. Huh huh.
Gioia’s Deli 1934 Macklind Avenue, Saint Louis, MO 63110 314/774-9410 www.gioiasdeli.com