“Do you do sandwiches?”
“What, you never had my sandwich?” said the older man with an Italian accent behind the counter.
“No,” Josh replied.
“Hey, get over here!” the man yelled to a guy looking at bottles of olive oil. “This guy’s never had my sandwich.”
“Oh,” said the olive oil guy, “he makes a good sandwich. No lettuce or tomatoes or anything, but he makes a good sandwich.”
“Trust me,” the Italian man said. “I’ll make you a good sandwich.”
So we did, and he did. The man’s name is Rosario, and he’s been behind the deli counter at Roma Market since 1955, the year his family moved to Pasadena from Sicily. The market, itself, is small strip mall affair, filled to the brim with fresh produce and a substantial array of imported Italian goods. The deli counter is tucked away and tiny, but it’s big enough to fit Rosario’s stool and a satisfying selection cheeses and meats.
While awaiting the sandwich, I checked out the slightly-pricey-but-mostly-worth-it dried pasta, canned tomatoes, jars of truffles, giant loaves of fresh bread, and tempting selection of Italian cookies. I spotted the red bag of Amaretti di Sarronno cookies, and quickly snatched them up—I once ate an entire bag in one day in Venice, and I wanted to repeat the performance. All the while, Rosario continued talking to Josh and the olive oil guy about relationships, admitting that these days he’s less interested in finding the perfect woman and more interested in finding the perfect cheese.
It turns out this sandwich is pretty famous around Pasadena. I can see why. There’s nothing to it in terms of accoutrement—just 3 types of imported cold cuts, sharp provolone, and olive oil. Rosario says it’s better that way, so you can “taste it.” He’s right. It reminded me of sandwiches you buy while walking around in Italy, but a lot bigger. And as much as I like the tomato, mustard and onion in subs from Bay Cities and Claro’s, this sandwich, ballsy in its simplicity, is pretty perfect.
Roma Italian Deli and Grocery (Map It)
918 N Lake Ave
Pasadena, CA 91104