Ask around Columbus Park, where Kansas City’s rich Italian heritage stretches back more than a century, and you’ll find a handful of locals still wistfully recall LaSala’s Deli. LaSala’s operated from 1921 until it was sold in 2012, becoming the North End before closing permanently last year. The deli was known for its “poor boy” and “rich boy” subs, which were layered with either economical or premium cold cuts and cheese.
It’s the KC rich boy I went in search of: an oval-shaped roll split down the center and stuffed with pepperoni, Genoa salami, ham, provolone, tomato, onion and Italian dressing. I plotted out every classic Italian deli I could find (eleven in all) and ordered the sub that sounded closest to the LaSala’s original.
Everyone I spoke with had a different take on what made a great Italian sub, but all agreed on two points: It starts with the bread, and you can’t skimp on the ingredients. Of the eleven I tried, here are my five favorites.
Italian Gardens Pizzeria
Ask for: The Richboy
Price: $7, with chips
John DiCapo fondly recalls the rich boy sandwiches at LaSala’s Deli. “You ordered a whole, half or quarter loaf, and when we were kids, that was the biggest treat in our life,” he says.
In 1925, DiCapo’s family opened the Italian Gardens restaurant downtown and operated it for five generations. The beloved landmark closed in 2003, just shy of its eightieth birthday, and DiCapo decided to pivot.
“After being in business for forty years, I realized I’d never actually owned a pizza restaurant,” he says, and in 2021, he opened in the Crossroads. “I was just gonna sell Sicilian pizza, but people were asking about sandwiches, so I added those to the menu, too.”
Of the eight sandwiches on offer at Italian Gardens Pizzeria, only one is cold: the Richboy, layered with smoked ham, Genoa salami, pepperoni and provolone cheese, plus shredded iceberg lettuce and slices of tomato and white onion. It’s finished with house-made giardiniera, plus mustard and mayo. All of this is contained by a soft Italian roll from Roma Bakery, another century-old local icon.
“The roll that we use is basic, but it’s spongey,” DiCapo says. “That’s important for the Richboy because we prep a dozen of those sandwiches with just the meat and cheese, and we keep them in the cooler so that they’re cold.”
Ask for: Napoli Italian
Price: $11.25, without chips
For Don Foringer, there are three parts of a good sandwich: bread, protein and condiments.
“It’s a matter of balance,” he says. “The bread-to-meat ratio is key. You want as much meat as possible, but it has to be very thinly sliced because you need some air in there, some negative space that allows you to aerate the flavor profile.”
At d’Bronx, the Napoli Italian sub packs in over a third of a pound of cold cuts. The recipe is the same as it was when the first shop opened in 1990, though Foringer has made a few selective upgrades. He opted for Genoa salami and capicola from Citterio and a spicy pepperoni. He selected aged provolone from the BelGioioso factory in Green Bay and worked with a local bakery to develop a seeded Italian-style roll.
“The bread is warmed up in the oven before we make the sandwich because we want to get that crispy crumb on the outside and keep a soft crumb inside,” Foringer says.
Condiments give the Napoli Italian essential acidity and moisture. The balsamic vinaigrette is pleasantly peppery, and the lightly spiced giardiniera—marinated celery, carrots and sport peppers—lends a satisfying crunch. There are sliced tomatoes and onions, of course, plus chilled roasted red peppers and sliced green olives.
Jovito’s Italian Deli & Café
Ask for: The Vito
Price: $12, with chips
Jovito’s is best known for its grinders. In KC, that’s what you call a roll stuffed with red sauce, mozzarella and meatballs—Mario Scaglia is credited with popularizing the grinder via Mario’s Deli in Westport, which operated from 1969 to 2017.
The Vito sub at Jovito’s is a sleeper hit. Alex Fiorella—the grandson of Russ and Flora Fiorella of Smokestack BBQ fame—is a partner at Jovito’s, along with his mother, Leasa Caron. A good deli sandwich, he says, starts with the bread. “We were deciding between a split top roll and a crispy seeded roll, and we felt the soft Roma roll was smoother on the palate,” he says.
The Vito starts there, then gets just the right drizzle of Jovito’s oil-based Italian dressing, which Caron prepares herself. Five slices of shaved Black Forest ham, five slices of Genoa salami and six crescent-folded pepperonis, plus creamy provolone, Romaine lettuce and sliced tomato finish it off.
Ask for: Il Saro
Price: $8, without chips
Sandwiches in Italy are simple, Jake Imperiale says, and nothing like the options on the deli board at Bella Napoli, the Brookside restaurant he opened in 2001.
“In Italy, it’s a slice of prosciutto and a slice of cheese inside of bread,” he says.
Bella Napoli’s Il Saro sandwich hits all the right notes: salty cured meats (imported Genoa salami, mortadella and capicola), nutty provolone, a sour kick from the giardiniera and even a sweet little whisper from a thick balsamic drizzle—more or less the recipe most delis employ for their standard sub, though the balsamic is a nice touch, and leafy greens are used instead of crunchy lettuce.
And then there’s the bread from Strawberry Hill Baking Company. It’s chewy, with a dark gold exterior and a springy interior resembling a French baguette.
“It has a hard crust, which was important to me,” Imperiale says. “We wanted to mimic what they do in Italy in that respect, and it all starts with the bread. From there, it’s about high-quality products, simplicity and good flavors.”
The Italian Sausage Company
Ask for: The Number Seven
Price: Half for $11.50, without chips
In 1989, Sam Brancato and son Joe Brancato Sr. opened Brancato’s Market on Independence Avenue in Northeast Kansas City, and it was more or less a neighborhood convenience store and deli counter. The business closed in 2002, but Sam’s grandson Joe Brancato Jr. and Joe’s wife Michelle dreamed of building on the family legacy.
They got their chance when they found a pinky-sized shop in a Northland strip mall, and in November, they opened the Italian Sausage Company.
In addition to resurrecting Sam and Joe’s sausage, Joe Jr. and Michelle assembled a large menu of subs that stand apart from most Italian delis in Kansas City. The Number Three starts tame, with mortadella and mozzarella, but it ends with a homemade Calabrian chili cream and hot honey. The Brancatos love condiments and make all theirs in-house, from the chili cream to a lemon basil pesto to the garlic
aioli that is happily smeared on the Number Seven—their ode to a typical Italian hoagie.
“We’re a mix of old school and new school,” Michelle says. Her family moved to New Jersey from Kansas City when she was a teen, and she remained there for a decade. “There was a deli that was similar to ours on every street corner.”
Michelle and Joe are all about the details. They have four different bread vendors for the menu, even sourcing an onion roll from Louisburg. For the Number Seven, they opted for Roma Bakery’s large, seeded Italian loaf. This is packed with four meats (ham, Genoa salami, capicola and pepperoni), provolone, shredded iceberg lettuce mixed with arugula, papery rings of onion, thin slices of tomato, that fragrant garlic aioli, mustard and Joe Brancato Jr.’s secret mix of oil, vinegar and fresh herbs.