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Cheap Eats: Casa Italia

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Casa Italia's mortadella and cheese sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Casa Italia's mortadella and cheese sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Ever have one of those weeks where you think maybe Sylvia Plath was onto something? Such has been my week. Between a throat-shredding viral infection and marathon calls to Bright House, I’ve been an unhappy camper. But today, things are looking up — I can swallow without pain and I’m thinking about one thing: comfort food. Which for me involves one thing: salumi. And one destination: Casa Italia.

You may know Casa Italia as a great specialty grocery store, and it is indeed stocked with excellent imported goodies from both Italy and India. Casa Italia has a wondrous selection of pantry items from caviar to grissini, along with a stocked cheese counter and an impressive selection of house-cured olives. All well and good. But I’ve been going there for years because they make what I consider the best sandwich in Sarasota. No exaggeration, the best sandwich in Sarasota is Casa Italia’s mortadella and cheese.

It couldn’t be simpler. Casa owners Raj and Nita Mathur start with the best bread in town, crunchy and flaky on the outside, with plenty of soft give inside, and slice it lengthwise. Then comes thinly sliced mortadella — the pork salume from Bologna, studded with pistachios and thick nuggets of fat.

I was an open mortadella hater as recently as 2008; its texture was way too close to Oscar Meyer bologna. But a trip to mortadella’s city of birth made me realize what a fool I had been. There they serve it like prosciutto, layering paper-thin slices and serving it plain as an antipasto. I distinctly remember buying a big hunk that I thought surely would last me during a three-hour train ride. It barely lasted the walk to the train station. It was so delicate it almost melted. My lips glistened. I felt so happy.

Casa Italia's house special sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Casa Italia's house special sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

At Casa Italia, slices of provolone — top quality, again — go on top of the mortadella, as well as some chopped lettuce and a subtle drizzle of olive oil and vinegar. So basic, but this sandwich is perfect — a sublime balance of crusty bread and tender pork.

The store’s house special sandwich is also no slouch. Again, the bread is fabulous, and it comes stuffed with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, oil and vinegar. The mozzarella dominates this sammie, delivering an explosive hit of lactic goodness. My only criticism might be that the cheese is so delicious that it washes out the more delicate prosciutto. But really, that is a very, very minor complaint.

As if the sandwiches weren’t enough, I run into a friend during my visit. She’s picking up a large order of food from Casa’s Indian-Food Fridays. Each week, Raj and Nita whip up a variety of Indian dishes (usually five) they sell in bulk. Today is Saturday, so I’m a day late, but they still have a couple dishes left, so I leave with a pound of chicken maharajah, some curried chicken salad and a pack of frozen naan that Nita guarantees is “addictive.”

I reheat the food at home, and while worlds apart from my beloved sandwich, it provides comfort of its own. The chicken is braised in a flavorful tomato-based sauce, and hits all the notes great Indian food should: a little spicy, a little sweet, a little savory. The curried chicken salad is also a lovely brew, combining chicken and curry, of course, with almonds, raisins and more. And those naan Nita told me about? Addictive is an understatement.

By the end of the day, I’m feeling much better. My cold is lifting, my wi-fi is functioning smoothly and, most important, I’m satiated.

Casa Italia's chicken maharajah / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Casa Italia's chicken maharajah / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Casa Italia
2080 Constitution Blvd., Sarasota
941-924-1179 or casaitaliafl.com


This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature on Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: September 13, 2013
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