NIAGARA FALLS – Asked what life lesson his ill-fated bout with mesothelioma had imparted, the late Warren Zevon – noted songwriter and witticist extraordinaire, in the vein of the equally late Frank Zappa – responded matter-of-factly: “How much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”
Hear! hear! I say. And since one never knows which bite may be his/her last, there’s absolutely no point wasting time with subpar sandwiches.
When it comes to smashing sandwiches, I bring good tidings of great joy. Not one, but two new sandwich shops have opened in the city, and it seems as though each is trying to outdo the other with tasty concoctions crafted from the best local breads and locally sourced meats and produce.
That being said, this month we bring you two reviews for the price of one. Consider it a salute to sandwiches.
Both Rocco’s Sandwiches and Catering (10065 Niagara Falls Blvd.) and Scipione’s Italian Deli and Catering (3010 Pine Ave.) are pint-sized, family-affair operations. There’s barely enough room to turn around in either (Scipione’s is a little bigger), but if you insist on sitting in, rather than taking out, each will be able to accommodate you.
While they occupy the same niche in the restaurant hierarchy, the two eateries are located at opposite ends of the city: Scipione’s just inside the gates of the Little Italy section, and Rocco’s just inside the gates of the city limits.
A recent visit to Scip’s found the small dining area hot and steamy – a corner fan barely making a dent in the mugginess – but the “neighborly’’ feel to the place still intact and shining through loud and proud. The hostess/cashier made sure to chat up each of the dine-in customers, offering a little small talk along with some suggestions for future visits.
Rocco’s has only a couple small tables for those opting to eat in, but it’s comfortable enough and not so busy that you can’t enjoy your meal, and the ambience is equally friendly.
The first major difference you’ll notice between the two is the bread products. Scip’s insists upon DiCamillo products, baked fresh daily right here in the Cataract City. Rocco’s opted for the Italian delights coming out of the Four Seasons Bakery from Cataract City, Canada.
The differences are slight, but important. The Four Seasons bread, in my opinion, is crustier on the outside and a little more doughy inside; maybe just a little bit heavier, yet it eats very easily, if you know what I mean. Flavor-wise, it’s a horse apiece. They’re both tasty breads. For a lot of people, I think, it comes down to what one has grown accustomed to.
Ditto for the fillings. While each (admirably, I might add) strives to “keep it local,’’ Rocco’s puts its money on the deli meats and produce from longtime local favorite Latina’s. Scipione’s keeps it in-house, particularly with its incredibly popular Italian sausage and self-described “Western New York’s finest’’ roast beef.
Subtle differences, like I said, yet important. That’s the real heart of the operation, after all.
The biggest difference between the two shops is the menus: Rocco’s keeps it relatively simple with about a dozen sandwich and submarine offerings, while Scipione’s branches out slightly more, offering homemade soups, chilis and desserts in addition to sandwiches, burgers and salads.
I am happy to report that neither appears to bank too heavily on the theory that a sandwich, like life, gets better the more you put into it. That may hold true for vacations and bucket lists, but not necessarily for sandwiches. Too much of a good thing can ruin things sometimes, and sandwiches can easily fall into that category.
Too many different tastes tend to cancel each other out, or dilute the sensations, creating a jumble. Simplicity is sometimes the best recipe, and both places do that.
Soup, on the other hand, seems to benefit from creativity and adventurousness. The more you drop in, the better it seems to get, especially when the ingredients are fresh and copious. Scipione’s Italian wedding soup may well be the best I have ever had. Chock full of chunky meatballs, hunks of carrots, tasty spinach and pasta pearls, it was heaven in a bowl.
The broth was perfect, there was substance in every bite. Delightful.
Scip’s also offered house-made, fresh potato chips, which was nice. We noticed a plateful upon our arrival, looking like a huge batch of ribbon fries, and hoped we would get some. They were worth waiting for.
Ditto for the pickles, by the way, at both places. Crispy, tart dill spears complemented the sandwiches perfectly. Both were slightly garlicky, but not overly so. Best part was that they weren’t those limp, wimpy dills some places throw in with their sandwiches, like they’re doing you some kind of favor. Please!
Speaking of sandwiches – the reason we are here today – the steak and cheese sub ($7.75) at Rocco’s may be the best in a city known for its awesome steak and cheese options. Meat and cheese melded perfectly and was seasoned expertly; a flavorful oil added taste to the experience, rather than just greasiness. Texturing was accomplished compliments of crisp lettuce, onion and tomato. The bread hugged it all like a child’s favorite doll. Awesome sandwich.
Rocco’s assorted (ham, salami and capicola – small $4.75, large $7.25) was equally good, with our choice of provolone cheese and that tasty oil. I wondered later whether I should have tried the house dressing, but that’s one for the next visit. We also sampled the chicken parm sandwich ($4.75) a cutlet topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella or Parmesan on a toasted bun. We went with the parm and it was a warm, gooey, tasty treat.
Scipione’s sausage sandwich has been a Falls-area staple for decades – since 1968, in fact – and it just keeps getting better. A Scipione’s-catered party was always the best, for my money, and now you can get it without having to wait for a special event.
The Scip beef on weck is, as advertised, a true contender for “best of’’ Western New York. Featuring a giant glob of tender, tasty (and not the least bit stringy) meat crammed into a salty, seedy bun, then dipped lightly in au jus, it was obviously the work of a master craftsman.
Our only regret from our Scip’s visit was that their French toast bread pudding had sold out that particular day. What a wonderful sounding dessert. Again, something to look forward to for the next visit. And trust me, there will be a next visit to each place. In fact, I intend to “enjoy every sandwich” at each one.