Head cheese on The Hill.
On my recent day off, I decided to search for another “only in St. Louis” specialty for lunch. My last quest brought me to Mai Lee for a St. Paul sandwich. Having lived in St. Louis now for almost six months, I was overdue for an Italian sandwich on The Hill, our city’s historic Italian community. There are many Italian delis here. Everyone seems to have their favorite sandwich along with their their favorite St. Paul Sandwich and frozen custard and gooey butter cake. I suppose it’s similar to asking a Minneapolis-St. Paul resident for advice about where to find their favorite Jucy Lucy about which I’ve gotten into online brawls.
This quest started at Gioia’s Deli (pronounced joy-a). According to Gioia’s website, they’re the “oldest family owned business on The Hill and have been serving hot salami (Salam de Testa) since 1918. Their deli is even built from wood and brick leftover from the 1904 World’s Fair. On Gioia’s website you’ll find a regular menu and secret menu with extra deluxe combinations involving meats and garlic cheese bread. Hot salami is a big deal here. The deli makes this meat specialty daily from pig head parts like noses and snouts, and serves slices warm on sandwiches. Hence, the hot salami gets its name from its temperature, not spiciness. You can watch Andrew Zimmern catch some of the sausage-making process on this Bizarre Foods episode.
Gioia’s was packed when I arrived for an early take-out lunch. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they wanted and how they wanted it. The employees were friendly and directed me through the process of ordering, waiting for the sandwich to be prepared, adding condiments, and heading to the cash register. I chose the Spicy Daggett filled with hot salami, coppa, capicola, cheese (I chose mozzarella), and giardiniera and served on toasted garlic-pepper cheese bread ($8.25).
As a “healthier” counterbalance, I also ordered the Iron Man made with a hollowed-out baguette, turkey, all of the vegetables, and spicy mustard.
The hot salami sandwich was our favorite. The meat was thickly-cut, unctuous, and tender. Nothing like the salami lunch meat circles of my childhood. The coppa and capicola added a slight kick and the chunky pickled peppers cut through the richness. Layered between toasted Italian bread with the perfect softness and chew, this was pretty much the perfect sandwich.
The Iron Man turkey sandwich tasted healthy. . . it’s hard to follow hot salami. I certainly wouldn’t want to. Both sandwiches provided us each with lunch for the next day, or, in my case, breakfast.
In conclusion, the Hot Daggett was a hit that I’d return for soon. I’ve never tasted anything like it living in MN, ND and IA. Next time, I’ll take advantage of their “Word of the Week” offer where the deli emails a secret word each week for $1-off a sandwich. After I posted a photo of Gioia’s hot salami sandwich, folks chimed in to say Gioia’s makes their favorite version. Other sandwich suggestions included the hot salami from Adam’s Smokehouse and the Amighatti’s Special from Amighatti’s.
Tell me about your favorite Italian Sandwich. Have you encountered Hot Salami before? Who makes your favorite sandwich on The Hill?