The Isabella, one of several specialty sandwiches at Luigi's… (Matthew F. Lallo, Baltimore…)
Open only since last month, Luigi's Italian Deli in Hampden avoids any of the missteps that invariably are part of a new restaurant.
Luigi's, and several of the small restaurants on 36th Street in Hampden, aka The Avenue, belie the old adage that patrons are reluctant to walk up stairs to a restaurant.
At the top of these steps is a pleasant porch furnished with four tiny tables. Sipping a Blood Orange Pellegrino and tackling one of the specialty sandwiches makes scaling a few steps a small price to pay. There is also a spacious patio out back.
Enter and to your left is a bright dining room, which would most likely be the living room of the original row house. Walk on and there is the spotless deli case filled with all the Italian meats, cheeses and roasted vegetables that make good Italian delis so inviting.
As we were deciding, the chef put up a huge oval dish of hot Italian sausage and sauteed peppers and onions. Maybe there are some people who can resist that aroma, but I am not one of them. I took some home.
The Isabella ($8), a sandwich made with prosciutto di parma, classic soppressata, dry cured coppa, asiago cheese and green olive spread on a baguette, is difficult to stop eating. It is well-balanced, with none of the too-rich feel of so many sandwiches filled with variations of cured pork.
Most of the sandwiches at Luigi's are $8, and the menu tops out at $9. There are also two salads: Caesar ($7) and Caesar with chicken ($9).
This delightful little Italian deli/market is run by an energetic young couple, who alternate shifts at Luigi's with taking care of their small children.
Luigi's also has taralla, the seldom-seen small Calabrian bagels, prosciutto cotta, Italy's wonderful answer to boiled ham, extra virgin olive oils, rosemary focaccia topped with fragrant Parmigiano Reggiano, filled-to-order cannoli and imported pastas, with shapes seldom seen outside of Italy.
Scale the steps, pick up some goodies and enjoy one of the best lunches on the Avenue.
Luigi's Italian Deli
Where: 846 W. 36th St., Hampden
Contact: 410-814-0652, luigisdeli.net
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Lunch entrees: $7-$9