It was encouraging to spot the bright Italian flag hanging proudly in front of Sapori D'Italia, a small grocery and carryout shop nestled into one of Cockeysville's countless sterile strip malls.
Inside, the generic space also has been spruced up with movie posters and tributes to both Marlon Brando and the exceedingly un-Italian Homer Simpson. Colorful containers of biscuits, wafers, pastas and shapely bottles of olive oil add more character.
Besides cheeses, artichoke hearts, pepper shooters and other deli items, Sapori D'Italia offers a lengthy list of Italian sandwiches divided into three categories - "hot off the panini grill," "classics" and "buon cuore" ("healthful").
Naturally, we selected sandwiches from all three categories. We stuck to the smaller size sandwiches, which all came on delicious bread baked on the premises and densely layered with meats, vegetables and cheeses in portions that afforded plenty of leftovers.
From the panini grill, we ordered la Porchetta ($6.95), a combination of roasted porchetta, provolone, extra-virgin olive oil and grated locatelli cheese. Of all the sandwiches, this one was the least appealing, through no fault of the proprietors. Some Italian meats are simply tastier than others.
In the classics category, for example, il padrino ($6.95) provided an intensely satisfying combination of proscuitto di parma, fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato and olive. One son was smitten by another classic, the Italian cold cut ($5.95), which was crammed with mortadella, salami, cappicola, prosciuttini and provolone. The Isabella ($6.95) was a tangy concoction of prosciutto, soppressata, Asiago cheese, tomato and green-olive spread.
We ordered three sandwiches from the healthful section - not because they were healthful but because they sounded so good. A peppery variation on predictable tuna sandwich, the Tonno diavolo ($5.95), featured hot cherry peppers, pepper cheese and black olives. The jury was split on whether this offering was guilty of pepper overkill.
Also from the healthful list, we chose a mixed-vegetable sandwich ($6.95), with roasted red peppers, provolone, olives, artichoke hearts, eggplant and field greens. Finally, the Sonny ($5.95) - named no doubt for the hot-headed Don's son in The Godfather - was a simple and transcendent invention of fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil.
A note on the sandwiches: They were wrapped in tinfoil and butcher paper and carried to the cashier in a large basket. A nice touch. It was also nice to have friendly people behind the counter, including one who helped carry the order to the car.
Cannoli, in regular and chocolate-dipped shells (both $3.95) made at Vaccaro's in Little Italy and filled with cream made at Sapori D'Italia, were a lovely end to a molto buono meal.
Waiting area: ***
Where: 10253 York Road, Cockeysville
Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Italian sandwiches, panini, side orders, desserts, from $3.95 to $8.95; credit cards accepted
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *