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Pastaria Deli & Wine Is Perfection To Go 

click to enlarge With Pastaria Deli & Wine, Gerard Craft has created the food counter of his dreams.

MABEL SUEN

With Pastaria Deli & Wine, Gerard Craft has created the food counter of his dreams.

Long before the pandemic ground dine-in operations to a halt and upended the way we eat and drink, Gerard Craft wanted to open a deli. From an old New York family, he wasn't interested in recreating the overstuffed pastrami-on-ryes of his youth, but rather the type of Italian-influenced food counter he fell in love with on his trips to the old country. He looked around for spots, and, a couple of years ago, even considered a space next door to his Clayton restaurant, Pastaria, but nothing seemed to fall into place. Determined to do it right when the timing came together, he shelved the plans and focused on his other endeavors.

That deli idea would come up again under decidedly unideal circumstances. As one of the most prominent voices trying to help fellow restaurants navigate the horrendous challenges facing the industry over the last year, Craft was one of the first to close his dining rooms and became a leader in thinking through how businesses could survive on carry-out, take-and-bake meals and to-go beverages. For some of his restaurants, this meant a shift that, while not easy, did not mean completely overhauling the very essence of what they were. For Sardella, his small, Italian-inflected restaurant and wine bar, it was a blow to its identity. Meant to be a cozy spot for sharing small plates and cocktails, there was no way to distill that feeling into a to-go option. Something had to change.

click to enlarge A look inside Pastaria Deli & Wine. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • A look inside Pastaria Deli & Wine.

With Sardella closed, it was a no-brainer for Craft to try out his deli idea. Adjacent to Pastaria, the space was tailor-made to complement the popular pizza and pasta spot with carryout-friendly items like sandwiches and salads that could be enjoyed in a park or in the backyard with friends. He and his team got to work trying out recipes, curated an outstanding wine selection and worked with Union Loafers to develop the perfect sandwich bread that would be the basis for most of their offerings. They weren't going for anything over-the-top — just simple food made from outstanding ingredients that would still allow for people to come together over a meal, albeit in a pandemic-friendly fashion.

See Also: Photos Inside Pastaria Deli & Wine

Craft and his team launched the deli as a pop-up last summer and were blown away by the reception — so much that he realized this was likely a long-term project rather than a temporary adaptation. With surrounding office buildings beginning to slowly come back to life and nothing like it in the area, it made sense that the deli would only grow — not lose relevance once people started hitting the streets again. After a few months, he decided to make the transformation permanent, shuttering Sardella for good and relaunching the space as Pastaria Deli & Wine this past Fall.

It's hard not to lament Sardella's closure; with the immensely talented Brian Moxey leading the kitchen as executive chef (a title he also holds at Pastaria), the restaurant was putting out incredible food, and felt like it had come into its own as the place Craft envisioned when he opened it in 2016. However, that pain eases the moment you bite into the Sloppy Giuseppe, a spicy, Italian riff on a sloppy Joe. Using the recipe for pork ragu he concocted for Sardella, Moxey layers the saucy meat onto the soft Union Loafers hoagie, then covers it with whipped ricotta and a chili oil drizzle that adds some serious fire to cut through the meat and cheese richness. It's a stunning homage to the space's past.

click to enlarge Executive chef Brian Moxey and sous chef Kris Smith. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Executive chef Brian Moxey and sous chef Kris Smith.

The Local Coppa Pork Roast is an equally outstanding hot sandwich. The slow-cooked meat is so succulent you could spread it on a biscuit — or in this case, flawless Union Loafers bread. Red wine vinegar and peppery arugula punch through the richness, but the dish's secret is a drizzle of tonnato sauce, an Italian-style fish sauce condiment that adds a whisper of funky umami, turning this from a great roasted pork sandwich into one of the best meals between bread around.

Pastaria Deli & Wine's cold sandwiches are just as delightful. Boldly billing itself as the World's Best Tuna Salad, the restaurant's tuna salad sandwich has no delusions of grandeur. Unlike its mayonnaise-bomb American cousins, this Italian-style salad folds confit tuna together with olives, capers, red onions, a tiny bit of aioli and garlic chili vinaigrette. It's like eating puttanesca sauce in sandwich form.

click to enlarge A selection of items from Pastaria Deli & Wine: roasted turkey sandwich, tuna salad and Kris's chicken salad. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • A selection of items from Pastaria Deli & Wine: roasted turkey sandwich, tuna salad and Kris's chicken salad.

The Kris' Chicken Salad sandwich is another standout. Named for the deli's sous chef, Kris Smith, the traditionally mayonnaise-heavy salad is restrained in its use of aioli, allowing the flavor of the roasted chicken to shine through. Celery, chives, oregano and Castlevetrano olives season the dish, while piquant pepperoncini add a pleasantly surprising, spicy punch.

Even a simple caprese sandwich delights thanks to thick-sliced mozzarella, red wine vinegar and an outstanding pesto aioli. And there's nothing simple about the masterpiece that is the Volpi heritage prosciutto sandwich, piled with buttery cured ham, cultured butter, lemon and spicy giardiniera. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea to pair butter with prosciutto should win a Nobel Prize.

Pastaria Deli & Wine also offers a selection of salads (fans of the adjacent Pastaria will be happy to have an additional opportunity to grab its wonderful shaved kale), picnic packs meant to be enjoyed with a bottle of wine by the waterfall down the street at Shaw Park, brown butter chocolate chip cookies, Detroit-style pizzas on Fridays and Saturdays (RIP Porano), and a dish of rosemary, thyme and citrus-marinated Castlevatrano olives that alone make this restaurant's existence cause to celebrate. Biting into one of those buttery marvels and reveling in the spread of crusty bread, cured meat and wine laid out before you, you're treated to a transportive trip to the old country — a journey that is one of the instances of pure joy to come out of this challenging year.

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