Friday, July 20, 2012

Can I See a Show of Hands?

Anyone else think that my Favorite Traveling Companion and Editor-
in-Chief owes me a raise? The weather is the “same old same old,” so our excursion for the day was to Fino’s from the Hill for lunch. It should come as no surprise that the umbrella tables outside the restaurant on the sidewalk were vacant. Who would want to eat outside in 94⁰ temps (heat index of 104⁰)?

Fino’s was the recipient of Memphis Magazine’s Silver
Medal in 2011 for best deli and is owned by Jerry (right) and Elizabeth Wilson, who purchased it a few years ago from JoAnn Johnson. Fino’s regulars worried that the new owners wouldn’t maintain the same standards, but the “…loyal, longtime customers had little to worry about, as Wilson was one himself. He kept hounding Johnson to open a location in East Memphis, and she said it was impossible to run two. Eventually she asked him if he wanted to buy the one location she had. ‘If someone didn't buy it, it would've closed,’ said Wilson. ‘We couldn't let that happen’” (

The “from the Hill” in Fino’s name has special meaning. Elizabeth’s mother (I think) was raised in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis that is “the city's traditional Italian American neighborhood. Although known primarily for the dozens of fantastic Italian restaurants within its boundaries, the Hill is also one of the city's most tight-knit communities” (

“Baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, Sr. grew up on the Hill; their boyhood homes are across the street from each other on Elizabeth Avenue” ( Some may know Yogi Berra as a baseball player and manager of both the New York Yankees and New York Mets. I know him as a great 20th Century philosopher.

The Hill is also considered the birthplace of toasted ravioli (although some believe it originated in Sicily). (What is toasted ravioli? It starts as uncooked ravioli that is then breaded and deep fat fried. This is usually served as an appetizer accompanied by marinara sauce for dipping.)

But Fino’s obtains their meat and cheese products from vendors in St. Louis, including the selection of stick salami from Volpi Foods, America’s oldest manufacturer of hand-crafted, authentic Italian meat products. The packaged and canned products are imported from New Jersey.

Fino’s menu is as casual as is the surroundings. There is a list of hot and cold sandwiches, two pastas (spaghetti with meatballs, spaghetti with marinara), plus a pasta of the day, three pizzas, and a small list of desserts.

But each day brings a new list of specials, all of which are posted the evening before on Fino’s website. On the day of our visit, the pasta
specials were penne with chicken marsala and spaghetti with spinach-artichoke marinara; the day’s soup was Italian Gumbo; the day’s side was spinach-mushroom turnovers; and the special sandwich was turkey and salami with provolone, lettuce, and a tomato and onion marinade.

Neither of us wanted pasta, pizza, or soup, so we decided to share two cold sandwiches. I chose the special along with a small side of pasta salad. The sandwich was first rate with one caveat—the thickness of the bread. It had a wonderfully crisp crust—just as we like—but there was just too much of it.
Had the circumference of the loaf been an inch or two smaller, this would have been exemplary sandwich bread. (I later read that you can request that your sandwich be on “soft” bread, but that wouldn’t be true to the Italian deli experience.) And the “innards” kept slipping out of the bread necessitating frequent rearrangement. But it was delicious, and the marinated onions and tomatoes added real punch.

The pasta salad was also wonderful. Made with tri-color spiral pasta and sliced olives, it had a creamy richness that I thought have come from Duke’s mayo. But Jerry Wilson told me that while the recipe
includes mayo, it is not Duke’s. The dressing is a combination of ingredients that he refused to divulge. Can’t blame me for trying.

Chuck went with one of the menu’s regular cold sandwiches. Was it the Penn Station with turkey, pepperoni, provolone, banana peppers, lettuce, and tomato/onion marinade? Or the Fino with salami, provel cheese (white processed cheese that is popular in St. Louis) and black olive dressing? Or maybe the Acquisto with ham, mortadella, salami, provel cheese, and green olive dressing? None of the above. He ordered the Prosciutto Cotto made with sweet Italian boiled ham, provolone cheese, and roasted red peppers in balsamic vinegar.

Like mine, this was also a delicious sandwich. What really surprised me was Chuck’s loving the roasted red pepper and balsamic vinegar condiment. As small pieces would fall off onto his plate, he would pick them up and tuck them back in. Sometimes he surprises me.

Well, we did finally share our two sandwiches—that night for supper—and we enjoyed again our 4.0 Addie meal. Fino’s sandwiches are so large that I dare any person who is not a construction worker to finish one in one sitting.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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