Panozzo’s Does Italy Proud With Its Local Ingredients
Located a meatball’s throw from the Loop lies a delicatessen with a serious commitment to authenticity, quality, and locality. Panozzo’s specializes in Italian foods made from local ingredients, resulting in creations unlike anything else in town. Most notably, the crescentine sandwich, a pressed sandwich made with soft flatbread and any number of fillings.
The crescentine sandwich is not your standard deli fare. At first glance, the bread looks too thin to slice and use for a sandwich. What drew me to it was its resemblance to Indian fry bread, and for good reason. This bread is pan-fried before it becomes sandwichable. The bread is a specialty in parts of Italy, and largely unseen stateside, which is a travesty, considering how delicious and functional it is. Once sliced in half, you get your pick of fillings, and the options are numerous. Braised beef shoulder with Parmesan cream, giardiniera, and salsa verde is a play on an Italian beef, and the mortadella sandwich with olive-pistachio relish will make you weep all over your bologna sandwich memories. I like the confit chicken thigh sandwich, heaped with roasted tomato pesto, mozzarella, Parmesan, pickled chiles, and herbs. It’s the deli’s riff on chicken Parmesan, and the only problem here is that I will now never be able to eat regular chicken Parmesan again. The bread remains pillowy on the inside, while the exterior is griddled until just crisp. It’s rich and hearty, but since it’s so thin, it doesn’t feel too heavy and it allows the filling to sing.
If you can pry yourself away from your sandwich, you’ll notice the shop is brimming with prepared foods, cheeses, meats, sweets, wine, and more. Locally sourced meats include Gunthorp Farm pork belly porchetta, Slagel Family Farm beef, roasted Gunthorp chickens, and cured meats from Creminelli and La Quercia. Arancini are large enough to toss around a baseball diamond, cookies come in flavors like lemon-thyme shortbread and chocolate chip with Sicilian almond brittle, and cannoli are fried and filled to order. Beyond the crescentine sandwiches, Panozzo’s offers a burly meatball sandwich and a braised sausage sandwich, both served on crackly ciabatta rolls, and both ideal for some sort of Soprano’s viewing party. Healthful sides round out the deli case. I’m a farro freak, so I spring for the farro salad made with Anson Mills farro piccolo, Green Acres Farms beets and carrots, prunes, and pine nuts.
Legitimate Italian sandwiches are a woefully tall order in Chicago, so the offerings at Panozzo’s are a welcome, irresistible relief, made all the more appealing by the fact that ingredients are responsibly and locally sourced. Often viewed as straightforward red sauce sandwich emporiums, Italian delis rarely put as much effort into its sourcing as Panozzo’s does, mostly because they feel they don’t have to. Panozzo’s sets themselves apart by operating as much more than just a deli. It’s a wholesome part of the community, an authentic piece of Italy in Chicago, and the type of neighborhood market every neighborhood envies.