A classic Italian sandwich comes stacked with meat.
There’s certainly no shortage of lunch options downtown, and there are more than a few places where you can find a great sandwich. But there are perhaps none better and more buzz-worthy than Casetta Kitchen and Counter, the new Italian-American deli on West Washington Avenue.
The restaurant opened in February in the space formerly home to Bluephies Downtown Deli, which closed in 2014. In remodeling, co-owners James Juedes and Tommy Gering have given the place a sleek, minimalist facelift, adding an attractive wood-topped bar and white subway tile accents. Casetta focuses on breakfast and lunch, opening at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday to serve the office crowd. There’s well-brewed coffee from Ruby Roasters, a rotating menu of house-made scones, quiche and pastries, plus a small assortment of basic-but-substantial egg sandwiches, available until 10:30 a.m. I was excited to try the fresh juices — you can’t go wrong with orange, but I thought the green blend (kale, lemon, apple, ginger) could have used more zip.
Lunchtime is when Casetta really shines. Six signature deli-style sandwiches join daily specials, or diners can build their own, starting by choosing from two types of bread. I much preferred the taste and texture of the focaccia roll to the thicker and rather dry semolina-seeded hero bun, but I appreciated the latter’s utility in soaking up some of the saucier sandwiches.
A more substantial bread might be useful in the enormous Italian sandwich, a classic that comes with capicola, salami, ham and provolone, plus lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, hot peppers, oil and vinegar and dried herbs. It’s a tower of meat (most of which comes from Underground Butcher and is sliced in-house), and it’s wonderful.
Another winner was the Hot Tonno, a hearty-yet-posh twist on a tuna melt. The tuna salad is lovely — not too salty or mayonnaise-y — and it comes topped with melted provolone, tomato and some fabulously fresh-tasting pickles. The Hoboken features a more modest portion of roast beef topped with fresh mozzarella, a few hot peppers and a generous slather of garlic mayonnaise. It was tasty, but seemed scant compared to the Italian sandwich. Same with the Sullivan, which had just a thin layer of prosciutto topped with provolone, arugula and hot peppers.
The daily specials are reliably good: Meatball subs on Mondays come drenched in marinara and cheese; chicken and eggplant parmesan on Wednesdays is breaded and fried to a perfect crisp. Honestly, I would happily eat anything these people put between two slices of bread.
Sandwiches this special deserve sides that go above and beyond the usual bag of chips. I particularly loved Casetta’s take on beets — roasted and diced, tossed with a light creme fraiche and garnished with dill (though this is out of rotation at the moment). The potato salad is lovely as well, featuring whole roasted fingerling potatoes mixed with tangy artichoke hearts, red onion and a light vinaigrette. A turnip and radish salad was on the menu for a brief period and is the only thing I genuinely disliked; the vegetables had an odd bitterness. But overall, I’m glad the kitchen keeps mixing things up.
I tried the soups almost as an afterthought, but the pasta fagioli deserves praise for its tomato flavor and chunks of tasty sausage. A mushroom puree was less successful — too thin and meager on the mushrooms.
A seafood cioppino served at a pop-up dinner was best of all, a delicate-yet-robust tomato broth packed with perfectly cooked lobster, clams and mussels. It came with a crusty baguette topped with homemade aioli, and Juedes (who was waiting tables that night) graciously brought my table a second helping to soak up the last of the stew. There were only a few tables in for dinner during my visit, which makes me think the word hasn’t gotten out yet about their occasional evening events. So let me be the first to say, they’re worth checking out — just like pretty much everything else at Casetta.
Casetta Kitchen and Counter