When Luigi’s Italian Deli closed over the winter, we went into a bit of a panic. The Hampden spot cracked the code when it comes to artfully arranging and piling great ingredients on bread, and without it, we’d be a little lost. Our favorites were the Tonno Diavolo ($8.50), with olive-oil-soaked Sicilian tuna, spicy cheeses, and spicier peppers, and the Isabella ($8.50), a small pile of soft, gummy meats (prosciutto di Parma, soppressata, dry cured coppa), and asiago cheese with a big glob of green olive spread on it. We made it a habit of shuffling over there very high at some point on most weekends and taking in all the sensory details that came with say, the Falco ($8.50)—turkey, cherry peppers, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, and sweet but also sinus-clearing pink sauce.
Turns out Luigi’s closed because proprietor Jeanine Little, who rented the space, was looking to get out of the business and Fork & Wrench chef Cyrus Keefer was going to take over the spot out for a new restaurant, Pique. Little sold the Luigi’s name—along with equipment and recipes—to Chris Doiron, who starting looking for a new Hampden locale. Then Keefer’s financiers fell through, so Doiron ended up in the same old Luigi’s space, and reopened in April. If anything, it seems as though a little bit more attention is now paid to how they’re making the sandwiches. Meet the new Luigi’s—pretty much the same as the old Luigi’s.
What has changed is the customer service. Personally, we loved the DGAF qualities it had before—there was a kind of macho confidence to the place, almost as if because the sandwiches were so good they didn’t have to be pleasant. Not to mention, the dudes working there often seemed as high as we were. And they blasted the best music—Baltimore club mixes way too loud or interesting, druggy global bass stuff—and it felt more like if you had a cool friend who also happened to make and charge you for delicious sandwiches while you hung out. It was our kind of place.
But sometimes you just wanted to go in and get your sandwich quickly and efficiently and not feel like you’re bothering the people paid to make your sandwiches or have to tolerate Beavis & Butthead-isms. Like look, we’re in a hurry and just want to order and subsequently inhale the Meatball Chub ($9.50)—a half-loaf of Italian bread stuffed full of meatballs and cheese that seems like something later-years Elvis would’ve dreamed up—and not have y’all chuckle at the word “chub.” The people working there now have customer-service skills—they’re a little too friendly sometimes, but their average customers are not misanthropes like us, so that’s OK. And Doiron has improved the porch seating in the front so it isn’t a bunch of tables so close together that you’re knocking knees with other patrons, and there’s a new back porch area that’s also BYOB, so it’s staking itself out to be a place to hang out or have a party rather than a place to stop in grab a sandwich and escape as soon as possible because you’re bugging the sandwich makers. In a sense, it also seems to now fit in a little better with the burgeoning bougie-ness of Hampden, for better or worse.
On a recent visit, we enjoyed the Nero ($8.50), a baroque Buffalo chicken sandwich that is somehow not disgusting like everything else ever containing Buffalo chicken (though we do think Luigi’s does cold sandwiches better than hot sandwiches; something or other about the way in which heat fuses the ingredients together dulls the deliciousness a little bit), and took in the nice weather from the porch. We were tempted to head over to Wine Source or the liquor store across and at least scoop up some Bohs. Next time.