Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Italian Store

Some people ask us how we select the restaurants we blog about. Honestly, we just write about whatever we happen to be eating at the time. It is part of that whole blogging our lives instead of living to blog thing. When deciding what we want to try next, I have a mental list of restaurants that I've heard about. Some have attained almost mythical status because of the number of times it has been recommended or the fact that it is in some distant land called Virginia or Maryland. Last weekend we found ourselves in Arlington to check out one of these mythical places: The Italian Store.

From the parking lot, it wasn't what I was expecting. I pictured a more ramshackle building rather than a standard "this could be located in any city" strip mall location. I also thought there would be a line outside. It was Sunday around lunch time, which I've heard is when the Italian Store is busiest. Since I didn't see a line snaking out the door, I figured we'd be in and out in no time. Turns out, there isn't a line at all. Instead, you take a number and wait by milling about the store filled with all sorts of Italian fare for sale. Even if it doesn't look that packed, you could be in for a 30 minute wait for a sandwich. This is one of those places that can be intimidating for newbies, so I'll share with you the rules of the road that we learned on our first trip.
  • If you only want to order slices of pizza, you don't need to take a number! Just go up to the counter on the far right and order your pizza. Numbers are for sandwich seekers only.
  • If you are ok with a pre-made Milano, you don't need to take a number. Unlike the point above that is clearly posted on a sign in the store, this shortcut was more difficult to figure out. After waiting for about 20 minutes, I noticed a basket of wrapped sandwiches on the counter. I asked the sandwich maker with the crazy mustache what the deal was with the pre-made sandwiches. He said that every day they put out Milano subs with all of the fixings (their most popular), which are ready for the taking without waiting in line. Since I was planning on ordering a Milano anyway, I snatched one up and ditched my line number. So, if you don't like lines and are happy with slices of pizza and a Milano sub, you can get in and out quickly and easily.
  • You can also call in your order in advance to save the time.
After waiting a couple of minutes for our pizza slices (and a cannoli), we wandered outside to one of the tables. There are no places to eat inside, so I imagine that The Italian Store becomes a to-go only option in the winter months. We dove right in to the Nino's pizza slice (left: white garlic sauce, spinach, ricotta, fontina, mozzarella, and spices) and the Tradizionale (right: plain cheese). While I thought that the reheated slices were a bit too crispy on the bottom, B loved the crackle and snap of the crust. The flavors were great and I think that if I had a fresh out of the oven piece of cheese pizza, I would have been in heaven. While not overwhelmingly large slices, they are a good deal at $3.29 for the Nino's and only $2.75 for the cheese.

We took our Milano sub to go and ate it at the car dealer while waiting for our car to be serviced. When we unwrapped this gem in the waiting area, I could see other customers salivating. Either that or they were annoyed that we stunk up the place with our sub. Sorry! Was it worth risking evil eyes from the Acura faithful to sample The Italian Store's most popular sandwich? Absolutely.

For me, this sandwich was a revelation. I grew up ordering turkey sandwiches on white bread with mayo, cheese, and lettuce. Even though I now add more sophisticated toppings, I still order turkey 99% of the time. Biting in to the Milano with its two varieties of Italian ham, genoa salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, onions, sweet and hot peppers, oregano, and special dressing made me realize what I've been missing. A whole new world of sandwich possibilities now lies before me.

Another revelation came in the form of a cannoli. I know you're probably looking at that picture and thinking that it looks like a plain cannoli but I had never had one before.

If you've recovered from your shock, (Matty C. I know you are aghast and I apologize) let me tell you that I loved this thing. Now please excuse me while I go off in search of non-turkey sandwiches and cannolis. I might be hooked.

Second Thoughts from B

After J's epic ode of a blog post that would make Homer proud, what more can I say? Sure, there may be room for the obligatory Godfather quote, but other than that, if you haven't Googled directions to this place by now, check your pulse 'cause you might be dead.

Having just experienced We, the Pizza (see here), it would be hard not to compare the two. Both are guaranteed to make your mouth water. Both have great crusts and great ingredients. The biggest - and really, only - difference that we noticed was the wonderful tangy bite that came from the sharper cheeses used on the Italian Store's pies. Having grown up adoring bleu cheese and extra sharp cheddar, this was right up my alley.

As far as the Milano sandwich, I couldn't help think that this was the inspiration for the Wreck at Potbelly. With that said, there's something about getting it at an Italian deli that takes it to another level. Maybe it is the higher quality ingredients or perhaps it is just the environment, but that was a good sandwich.

Now to the cannoli. I knew J had never had one and I knew there was no chance she wouldn't love it. Still, I had to make sure her first time was special. Mission accomplished. Sweet, smooth, crunchy cookie-like shell, perfect. So for all of you cannoli virgins out there, find your way to Arlington before I have to put out that Godfather quote...
Italian Store on Urbanspoon


Alix said...

J you weirdo, how have you never had a cannoli?

Also, that looks like a typical Italian hoagie and like no sandwich I had in Milan. It does look good! But I'm sure M will agree you can get better in my mom's kitchen.

Mark said...

A revelation? That's promising.

I've been looking for good sandwiches all over DC, and Italian Store is kinda my last unturned stone... everyone's recommended it, but I'm still skeptical. It's the bread- that you get on sandwiches in places like NYC, Philly and Baltimore, you just can't find in DC (is it the water? or just lack of good bakeries?)...

Hopefully I'll try it soon.

J said...

Mark, Let us know what you think. Keep in mind that the "revelation" line is coming from someone who doesn't know much about sandwiches. I'd be interested to see what a sandwich expert thinks. They have both hard and soft rolls. The one we tried was the soft one and I liked it. I'd imagine the hard rolls are more like the rolls that Taylor Gourmet ships down from Philly.