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The Sandwich at Roma Deli

So I finally got one! The first of many, I hope. The description I left on the Mortadella thread was a bit inaccurate; the content of The Sandwich does in fact vary, depending I'm pretty sure on what Rosario has smallish chunks of. The bread, the olive oil, the (stunning) mortadella and the provolone are constants, the capicolla I mentioned is not. Today he had a scrag-end of some prosciutto and a small piece of salami with which he finished mine off. He splits a roughly 10" loaf lengthwise, dribbles a good lashing of olive oil on each half, then starts laying on the mortadella (and if you're lucky as I was he'll hand you a slice just for the hell of it). Two or three slices of cheese go over that, then the other meats, and that's it. The roll is the best I've had around here, with a very crisp crust, not at all tough. I had originally meant to dress the whole thing up a bit more when I got it home, and I'm glad I thought better of that; it was totally satisfying just the way it was, and probably more than any fat old man needs to eat for lunch. Highly recommended!

While I was at it, I got four links of his sausage to put in with tonight's beans. Like The Sandwich, Rosario (call him Ross) makes just one sausage; unlike The Sandwich, The Sausage is always the same: porky, beautifully seasoned, no fennel. It's $3.89/lb, each link being usually a bit over 1/4 lb. The Sandwich is $5.50.

Roma Italian Market & Deli
18 N Lake Ave
Pasadena, CA 91104
(626) 797-7748

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  1. Hi Will, thanks for that. I'm thinking lunch... ;-) On the sausage, is it spicy? Thanks again! L

    4 Replies
    1. re: WildSwede

      No, not really. Just good basic Italian herbs and stuff. We like them better than Claro's, and they're a good bit cheaper. I got a dozen, browned them well on the gas grill, then braised them with peppers and onions for an Alfa club party summer before last. I put the pot on the table, went to get some wine, and returned in time to get the next-to-last one out of the pot. Next time I'll get TWO dozen.

      1. re: Will Owen

        ;-) Thanks. We are headed there right now for The Sandwich!

        1. re: WildSwede

          Okay, so I am sitting here at my desk in utter bliss. The sandwich is fan-ta-stic! In fact, I gave my friend a <small> slice (that is all I was willing to give up!) and she just came and mouthed "OH MY GOD!!". Definite fans!!
          When I got into line, there were 2 people ahead of me. A guy who got a sandwich and a 1/2 lb of Prosciutto and a lady who seemed to buy one of everything else. She got white anchovies, prosciutto, salami, asked for a cheese and he recommended a 10 year aged Provolone which he also gave me a taste of (fabulous!). His sweet helper went and pulled out some Burrata Alla Panna which he said he just got in this morning and she took two, I took one. Hell, I wasn't gonna pass that up. I also followed suit and got 1/4 lb prosciutto for $4.80. Cannot wait to feast on it!! I was eyeing all the fresh pastas in the fridge and determined that I will be coming back one day after work where I can spend as much time (or at least until they close at 8) browsing the aisles for all kinds of goodies.
          I ran two doors over to the Fishery and got some of their pasta salad. It is the perfect meal - I want another one! I will be taking these sandwiches to my friend's house on Saturday for an early dinner before we go out! ;-)
          Thanks again Will! You da best!

          1. re: WildSwede

            Jeez guys, this is completely unfair. I'm stuck with the mid-range to foul offerings on Miracle Mile.

            Just called-- they close at 8:30, and my wife has the car....... might be time to warm up that horribly implemented TAP card.

            Mr Taster

    2. Thanks for adding the report about The Sausage -- I'll have to try it. So far I've been very happy with the Italian sausage at Bristol Farms -- both the sweet and the hot. I was less happy with the sausage from Claro's.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Peripatetic

        I like the hot Italian sausage from Henry's - the first time I got the pork ones and now I have the turkey ones in the freezer. Very good.

        1. re: WildSwede

          I see Henry's and Sprouts are re-combining; I've not tried Henry's sausages, but Sprouts' bratwurst and Polish were both much too lean for any sausage to be, like they were trying to make it into diet food, and I never got any more. I do generally like what they make at Bristol Farms. Rosario's sausage needs to be either cooked fairly soon or frozen well-wrapped - he makes it fresh every morning and by the end of the day it's getting dried out.

          1. re: Will Owen

            And speaking of sausage, I was looking at the weekly grocery-store flyers, and I see that Ralphs has Italian sausage ON SALE for $3.99/lb. Golly, what a deal: get some factory-made mass-market sausage for a mere 10¢/lb MORE than Rosario's lovingly hand-crafted stuff. Of course, there are those who prefer their sausages not to be made by hand in the back room of a somewhat untidy deli. I will sincerely and earnestly ask those people to leave the Roma Deli sausage to the likes of me.

      2. Will et al, I finally tried the sandwich over the weekend.

        First of all, what a funny character this Rosario is. The only sentence he spoke that I understood entirely was "Fifty two years I've been in this spot. I work seven days a week. And I see new customers every week!"

        I went during a quiet Friday evening, and the only person I saw upon entering was a zaftig latina register clerk reading a newspaper in the center of the store. I walked around the perimeter, past the way-too-wrinkled red peppers and a small mountain of great looking dried pasta, before I even realized where to find the deli counter.

        I didn't even see Rosario at first, as the piles of cured meats behind glass all but obscured his tiny frame.

        "I hear you make a great sandwich," I said.

        something, something, "hand slice everything", something, something, "the best meat", something something. It was difficult to make out exactly what he was saying as both his accent and his age obscured his words.

        He sliced an ordinary looking sesame seeded mini loaf in half. This is not the Artisinal Bread of Legend. This is solid Italian-American deli bread. A little crusty, and a lot of squishy, and some sesame seeds for contrast. As it should be.

        Out comes the olive oil. A gorgeous deep green, drizzled on the bread.

        Then comes the hand slicing. Provelone. Mortadella. A couple of kinds of salami. Wrapped in paper, handed to me. This was not a massive sandwich, with meat piled high. There were about 4-5 slices of each type of deli, more or less single-layered on a loaf about 8-10". I was expecting a great sandwich, and it was. It really was wonderful-- exactly what you would expect and nothing you wouldn't. The meats were rich, buttery, flavorful. The bread was just crusty enough. The olive oil just brought it together.

        This is not Bay Cities Godmother. This is a much more humble sandwich, made with care and love, by a man who has been doing this for 52 years.

        Just go.

        Mr Taster

        P.S. Warning-- the house made stuffed shells and ravioli in the freezer case are sold by weight, and are EXPENSIVE! (Think $15 for a relatively small bag of ravioli). They're still in my freezer and I'll report back once I've tasted them.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Mr Taster

          After he kinda gets to know you, especially if you've made him laugh, he gets a lot easier to understand. He really is shy with strangers. I've made very few large purchases there, but I ask him for advice as to which brand of tuna, or oil, or canned tomatoes I should get (and often as not it isn't the most expensive one he recommends). And when I'd bought a dozen sausages for the Alfa Romeo club picnic, and told him how quickly they'd disappeared, he was clearly charmed; we've been on ALMOST conversational terms since then.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Thanks for this. Just to see the old man light up a bit, next time I'll ask for his advice as to what canned tomatos to buy. It'll be fun to bring my wife and see how he reacts around an adorable Chinese woman :)

            Incidentally, I've steered away from buying the expensive imported official San Marzanos because, quite frankly, the American tomatoes packed in juice taste fresher and brighter than the imported ones packed in puree (although the mushy, processed texture of the San Marzanos make them break down into sauce much easier).

            It's actually quite shocking to taste the difference. Open a $2 can of Hunts whole tomatoes in juice and taste it side by side with a $6 can of San Marzanos in puree. Guaranteed the import will fall apart and taste like mud, compared with a firm texture and clean, crisp, bright tomato flavor from the American one.

            And to be clear, I don't for a second believe that this reflects the experience of actually eating San Marzanos in Italy. There's some sort of import restriction on imported tomatoes having to be packed in muddy puree that makes them instantly inferior to ones packed in juice.

            Mr Taster

          2. re: Mr Taster

            Mr Taster, this is a vividly accurate description of the Roma experience!

            1. re: Mr Taster

              OK, I made the ravioli.

              They were spectacular! Even though they were frozen, the skins boiled up into a beautiful, pleasingly firm (though not really al dente) texture, and the ricotta used inside was of an extremely high grade-- not even the slightest texture of graininess that you get from supermarket ricotta. This was just silky, satiny smooth on my tongue, well seasoned with herbs and garlic, and absolutely perfect with a freshly made marinara sauce and a glass of red table wine.

              They're expensive, but definitely give them a shot.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                I had the stuffed shells last night with some homemade marinara sauce. They were indeed spectacular with very silky and creamy ricotta. Agreed that they were expensive at ~$15/bag (if memory serves) but given the quality and the quantity it's still a good value at a $/meal basis.

                I've bought the meatballs once too and while they were good, there was less of a wow factor. I don't think I'd buy those again.

              2. re: Mr Taster

                I went on Saturday and I followed your advice. My exact words to him:

                "I hear you make a sandwich"

                great minimalist sandwich. not gonna lie, i was left wanting more. BUT it left this wonderful aftertaste on my palate and I can't wait to go back.

                1. re: ns1

                  >> not gonna lie, i was left wanting more.

                  Buy another. They only cost about five bucks.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: ns1

                    it's that aftertaste that lingers which makes me always want to go back. when i first had the sandwich, i thought it was just ok. it wasn't until after i finished the sandwich that i realized how good it really is.

                    1. re: cdub

                      yup, first bite was "is this it?". Last bite was "damn that was good"

                      @Mr.Taster don't worry, it's on the list along with some sausages. Roma Deli is on a great street with lots of stuff.

                2. Address correction of RomaItalian Market's location in Will Owen's original post:

                  Roma Italian Market is located at 918 N. Lake Ave, and NOT at 18 N.Lake Ave:

                  Roma Italian Market
                  918 N Lake Ave,,
                  Between E Orange Grove Blvd and E. Washington Blvd
                  Pasadena
                  (626) 797-7748

                  1. This post has me drooling. I have to go to Pasadena in a couple of weeks, and this will be one of my stops. All I can say is there better not be a giant line ! :)

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: LisaN

                      When I went at about 7:30 on Friday evening, I was the only customer in the store.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        do they have anything like a breasalo or turkey or lamb sandwich besides the pork sandwich??? thankis.

                        1. re: kevin

                          As others have stated here, you order "the sandwich" and you take what he gives you. Don't ask questions. Don't make suggestions. Just pay your $5.50 and float away on a porcine cloud made of dried, cured meats.

                          Is this a life-changing experience? Will it change the world? No. But it's a great sandwich.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: kevin

                            The Taster speaks truth. There is no menu board. There is also no turkey nor lamb to be found on the premises. However, there is an impressive though far from encyclopedic array of meats and cheeses, along with that bread (rolls and large loaves too) and quite a few different brands of canned and bottled Italian foods and maybe six or seven brands of pasta and other grain products, so you're perfectly free to get some ingredients and go make your own sandwich. The produce, alas, was probably past its prime when it came in the door; I'd bought everything I needed for dinner one evening and lacked only one tomato, and in that whole box of them I could find none that I could willingly take home.

                            1. re: Will Owen

                              As a semi-frequent comsumer of "The Sandwich", I was shocked to witness Rosario making the guy in line ahead of me a turkey sandwich last week. Maybe he was in a particularly obliging mood. When my turn came and I told him what I just witnessed contradicted his famous one-sandwich reputation and that I didn't even know he had turkey, he told me to "not get any big ideas"

                              1. re: BlobbyBlob

                                just after i got my sandwich today, i noticed a guy behind me order 2 turkey and swiss sandwiches. left a little shocked.

                                it was my first sandwich from roma deli and i was very impressed. very high quality meats. a few slices of cheese, some olive oil, and bread. it all works well.

                              2. re: Will Owen

                                Yeah, their produce is definitely past its prime. He does have great olives and that olive oil bread is fantastic!

                                1. re: WildSwede

                                  Some of the bottled and canned goods are well past their sell-by dates, too.

                                  1. re: WildSwede

                                    Do you happen to know what olive oil he uses for the sandwich? I'd like to pick some up but it's difficult to get to Pasadena these days.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      Ask him and he'll sell you some. Nothing he likes better than to sell his favorite groceries, so do not be shy. You might even get a free taste of whatever he's slicing out of it.

                                      (Oops, I didn't read the part about getting to Pasadena. Guess that means I gotta get another sandwich and keep my eyes open. Honestly, the things I DO for you people!)

                                      Peripatetic: sell-by dates for bottled and canned goods are considerably less meaningful than most. As long as the seal is unbroken and vacuum maintained, that stuff will be safe to eat even after it's dissolved into its packing liquid. There are canned items in my late pa-in-law's pantry that are old enough to have no bar codes, but there is no "give" when I press down on the lid, meaning it's still sealed tight and no rot has occurred. Too bad about the dried cod roe, though …

                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        Being the supporting spouse of a pharmacy school student does take its toll. I appreciate the Chowhoundly support, Mr. Owen.

                                        Mr Taster

                                  2. re: Will Owen

                                    With regard to the sad produce selection, I did get some spectacular (and inexpensive) melons from him over the summer. Tender, sweet, gorgeous. Neither mealy nor sour.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      They also have some amazingly good basil, but they keep it out back, and you have to ask for it.

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        I got fantastic oranges, avocados 2 weeks ago, and I've also gotten fantastic pineapples. I also got a bag of pistachios that are really tasty.

                                      2. re: Will Owen

                                        I'm with others. I agree that the produce is very hit or miss, but i've had excellent melons there, and green pluots that were the best i had all year (and i usually buy from the farmer's markets). i don't typically make produce shopping my reason for going to Roma, but anything good is a bonus, though i did specifically make a trip this year just to pick up more pluots (and a side of sopressata)

                                        1. re: Bert

                                          how are the quality/price of the various charcuterie at Roma Deli, compared to say, Frumento's?

                                          1. re: TonyC

                                            I have no idea whatsoever. I don't frequent a lot of other delis, and I have no idea where Frumento's might be, nor do I care. The meats and cheeses here are priced at the upper level of what I can easily afford, and that's all I need to know. As for the quality, if it passes Rosario's standards, it's good enough for me. His mortadella is as good as mortadella gets, and his salamis likewise. Is it the best on the planet? How the hell would I know? It's the best he knows about, and he's the best judge of it I know. More than that I have no qualifications to say.

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              prices are quite reasonable. great prosciutto san daniele (best i've had in LA from a deli counter) for $19.99 a pound. Sopressata and various salumi are around $10/lb. fantastic mortadella is $6.99 or $7.99 a pound. just about everything is imported. great (though limited) selection of italian cheeses, too, like piave, fontinella, and aged provolone (as well as about 10 different varieties of pecorino).

                                  3. re: LisaN

                                    The only time I have noticed lines is during lunchtime on weekdays and mid-day on Saturday. Other times you should be fine.
                                    I always ask his opinion and take it and have never had a problem understanding him. He is a sweet man.