Lioni Italian Specialties

Where I work, we have a sister office around the block and their staff orders lunch from Lioni’s every week.  The result is a giant cardboard box of foot-long logs wrapped in white paper.  Lioni’s is an Italian specialty store in Bensonhurst (i.e. my neighborhood) that is famous for mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto, not to mention its literally hundreds of heroes.  Once, I was about to throw in an order for a sandwich for lunch, but reading the menu took way too long so I missed the opportunity.

How can you have hundreds of items on a menu?  Their heroes are named after Italian and Italian-American celebrities and contain endless permutations and combinations of toppings.  At a glance, the toppings include prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella di bufala (imported from Italy), roast beef, cappicolla, mortadella, salami, turkey, ham, bologna, sweet and hot Italian sausages, pepperoni, roasted peppers, olives, chicken and veal cutlets….  Hundreds, I’m telling you.

The store is pretty adorably old-school.  The brick walls are covered with old posters and catchphrases.  There are fresh olives at the salad bar and balls heaped upon balls of smoked mozzarella.  While we were there, I realized that local folks come here for fresh, authentic products rather than finding these things buried in the aisles of a supermarket.

I ordered the #21, Jerry Vale: prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella, pesto, olive oil, and black pepper.  Alex ordered the #7a, Joe Garagiola: chicken cutlet, smoked mozzarella, pesto, oregano, salt, and pepper.  We also shared some Sicilian rice balls.

My hero was served cold on a giant loaf of sesame-studded crusty bread.  There was a mountain of prosciutto on it, smeared with a thick, chunky, fragrant pesto sauce.  It was delicious, but I could see room for a little improvement.  First, isn’t prosciutto usually cured but uncooked ham?  The sheer amount of technically-raw meat was a bit chewy and the fatty parts were a bit tough and gristly.  I love prosciutto as much as the next person, but seriously it was a lot.  Second, prosciutto is very salty, so my sandwich was far more flavorful and moist than Alex’s, but it came at the cost of me having to chug water afterwards.

Alex’s chicken cutlet hero was served piping hot and crunchy.  The chicken was a tad dry, but the smoked mozzarella on his hero was superb.  My mozzarella was just raw, but the smoked mozzarella had this added…smokiness (duh) and fun stretchy quality since it was heated.  Neither of us could finish the entire hero, so we had enough for lunch the next day.

Incidentally, this food excursion reminded me of my first trip to Florence. We had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop in Siena that had a boar’s head hanging on the wall and one man making sandwiches slowly.  I had a sandwich with a thin layer of prosciutto, mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, and a crack of black pepper and it was an extremely delicious and memorable meal. Che bene!


  1. I love the Perry Como and the Sophia Loren.


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