If Al Yeganeh personified the "Soup Nazi", then Alessandro Gualandi was the "Mussolini" of Italian hero sandwiches when he opened up the Melampo sandwich shop on Sullivan Street in 1986. Taking a cue from the Carnegie and Stage delis, which are known for dedicating their meat-stacked creations to Jewish celebrities (like the Woody Allen combo), Alessandro mellifluously named his sandwiches (of which there are upwards of 40 different combinations) after Italian literary characters, artists, and actors.
Choosing between the Michelangelo, the Scorsese, the Pavarotti, and the Romeo was made that much more difficult by the risk of certain death, or worse, banishment sans sandwich, if you dared ask Alessandro for any variation from the pre-set combinations. The reason there has never been a sandwich named for Robert De Niro, it occurred to me, was because Alessandro saw himself playing De Niro's character from Taxi Driver. Customer: "Could I substitute sweet peppers for the hot ones that come on the Fellini?" Alessandro: "Are you talkin' to me?! Are you &$#*% talkin' to me?!!!" But the heroes were meticulously made and were the best imaginable.
In 2001, Alessandro abdicated his dictatorship over Melampo and handed the reigns to Walter Momente, who renamed it Alidoro. Not much else has changed except that Walter and his wife are a little more tolerant of substitutions (but not by much). The heroes themselves remain the best in New York City. And I don't make that claim lightly. I have toured the boroughs in search of Italian super-heroes. I have marveled at Caputo's in Brooklyn, Mike's Deli on Arthur Avenue in da Bronx, Leo's Latticini aka Mama's in Corona, Queens, not to mention Manhattan's Faicco's, Salumeria Biellese, and the recent addition of Torrisi's Italian combo. But Alidoro (née Melampo) is still the best in all of herodom and the best of the best is the Pinocchio.
If I'm lyin', I'm dyin' when I swear to you that the Pinocchio is the pinnacle of the art of Italian sandwich making. Prosciutto di Parma is sliced delicately as the foundation, on top of which is layered sweet sopressata and then hand-sliced fresh mozzarella. The other half is covered with black olive tapenade, sweet red and yellow roasted peppers, and a proprietary dressing. Walter beneficently permits me to add off-the-menu hot peppers for an additional kick.
The choice of bread, if you're lucky enough to arrive before they've sold out, consists of either tramezzino, focaccia, semolina or, my personal favorite, sfilatino, all sourced from Royal Crown Bakery in Bensonhurst. Wrapped in tinfoil, the meats, cheese, and dressings meld together while the sturdy bread fully absorbs the olive paste, olive oil, and the moisture from the fresh cheese. The sfilatino is an entire loaf, the length of Pinocchio's nose after telling a whopper of a fib, easily shared by two normal people or eaten solo by gluttons like yours truly.
Click here for other featured sandwiches or check out the 52 Best Sandwiches of 2011. Know a sandwich that should be featured? Email The Daily Meal or comment below. Better yet, become a contributor and write up your favorite today!