Each one is a little different. Uncle Jimmy is big and fiery, with a lot going on beneath the surface. Grandma Lucy breathes elegance and refinement, with a touch of American flair. Lil Phil is simple and safe, always sheltered within his comfort zone, and Uncle John has got it all and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.
But particular as they are, they all have two things in common: They’re delicious, and they’re sandwiches.
Roman Grandinetti and his mother, Regina, serve them up at Regina’s Grocery, an Italian-American deli that opened in Chinatown last month. The menu is a family tree of sandwiches, each named after a member of the Grandinetti line. They borrow flavors from traits of their namesakes—the Lil Phil is a basic ham and cheese, while the Uncle Jimmy is ignited with hot pepper spread.
For Grandinetti, “it’s family, always.” His mantra is evident from the moment you walk through the door. The cozy space is designed to feel like a vintage living room, a place to relax and chat with friends while Mom prepares food in the kitchen. Fading family photos adorn the walls, Italian groceries stock the shelves, pots and bags of oregano hang over the counter, and white lace skirts the window, evoking Grandma’s curtains. A young Regina stares off into the distance from a black and white glamour shot.
It’s a tribute to Grandinetti’s childhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He remembers his mother opening their doors to the neighborhood every Sunday, and being part of a community where everybody knew the butcher and had conversations on the street. He wanted to bring that feeling to the rest of New York.
Mother and son work the kitchen together, contributing their own strengths to their sandwiches. They draw upon their Italian heritage for inspiration.
“It’s a collaboration between me and my mom,” Grandinetti said. “I think where we meet best is in the middle.”
Grandinetti takes his mother’s traditional Italian cooking—big and filling, extra spicy, and “very everything,” he sums up, with a sweep of his hand—and fine-tunes her recipes, since “it doesn’t need to be 17 pounds to be a good sandwich.”
In fact, sometimes less is more. Whenever possible, Grandinetti eschews extraneous fillings, which are prone to falling out, in favor of house-made spreads, which distribute flavors more evenly. Olives take the form of a pungent paste and traditional Calabrian chili peppers are ground into a spicy sauce.
The latter stars in the Uncle Jimmy, alongside an impressive cast of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, smoked ham, arugula, and roasted red peppers on stirato bread ($16). The heat is no joke—expect your nose to start running within a few bites.
The Roman, another crowd favorite, features its namesake’s favorite sandwich meat: chicken ($14). Here, it’s smoked and served as a cold cut, a welcome change from the more typical grilled strips, and stacked with fresh mozzarella, garlic-sauteed broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers, and arugula. The broccoli rabe, prepared by Regina, is pleasantly piquant, offset by a tangy-sweet balsamic sauce that nicely rounds out the flavor.
And for the purist—or the starving—you can’t go wrong with the Uncle John ($16). This menu-topper is stuffed with hefty folds of prosciutto, provolone, mortadella, hot soppressata, and smoked ham, balanced by lettuce and roasted red peppers, and kept in place—just barely—by hearty semolina bread. It’s everything a classic deli sandwich aspires to be.
On your way out, be sure to stock up on your Italian groceries. A selection of imported goods, from pasta and hot cherry peppers to wafer cookies and Italian effervescente (a lemon-flavored Italian Alka-Seltzer, Grandinetti explained), are available for purchase.
27 Orchard St. (between Hester & Canal streets)
Lower East Side