Where can you get big, fragrant sandwiches made with authentic Italian meats and cheeses in North America? Well, there are good Italian delis in major metropolitan areas like New York, Philly, even Vancouver, B.C. But in Regina, Saskatchewan? Yep, the Italian Star Deli in downtown Regina, the capital city of this plains Canadian province will leave you salivating and wishing you’d bought two, three, or even more of their full-size, flavorful sandwiches.
Italian Star Deli is a family operation, expertly run for more than 30 years by the Giambattista family. Mom Giambattista came to Canada in 1959 from her hometown of Calendasio, Italy, bringing with her Italian warmth and the love of Italian deli products. She’s been joined behind the deli counter by her enthusiastic and perpetually smiling Italian son, Carlo, and Carlo’s daughter.
Friends and strangers alike are greeted by Carlo, “Hey how ya doin’? Nice to see ya. What can we make for you? That’s a great choice; a beautiful thing. You’re going to love it.”
And you will love it. Just like I did.
Italian Star Deli specializes in stocking the best meats, cheeses, pasta, and other products from all across Italy. The deli case is brimming with cheeses like asiago (Italian Cow’s milk cheese), brie, cheddar, cambazola (a combination of French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola), provolone (a smooth, full-fat cow’s milk cheese), parmesan, and Greek and Italian feta. Meats, which are sliced to order, include pepperoni, prosciutto, calabrese (dry hot sausage), prosciuttini (dry cured ham), Genoa salami, capicollo (ham), and mortadella (large pork sausage).
The deli’s shelves are packed with other imported products – capers, pickled beans, Italian tomatoes, olive oils, pasta, Italian coffee beans, and more. But the real star of the show – and what prompts people in Regina line up out the door – are their freshly made-to-order Italian sandwiches and sandwich platters.
I’d recently met Carlo a couple of nights before at Fortuna Ristorante Italiano (see our full review of Fortuna), Regina’s newest authentic Italian eatery, where he’s one of five partners. I was eager to try this iconic Italian deli I’d heard so much about.
When Carlo saw me, he smiled broadly, rushed from behind the counter, and wrapped me in a bear hug. “Bobbie, my girl, it is so good to see you. Thank you so much for coming to see me. What can I get for you?”
Seeing all the meats and cheese combinations felt a little intimidating so I asked Carlo to make me a sandwich of his choosing. Italian Star sandwiches come in mild, spicy, or “intenso.” I opted for mild and watched Carlo expertly slice meat and cheese whisper thin – capicollo, a lovely, mild ham, Genoa salami, provolone. He piled them onto a huge, soft, herbed fococcia roll, adding a layer of salty feta, some pesto, and, for an accent, a bit of yellow mustard. He sliced it in half and wrapped it in plastic for me to take on the plane.
My sandwich never made it to lunchtime. I ate the first half at 8 a.m. as I waited for my plane to board from Regina. The soft, slightly chewy focaccia, made fresh daily for Italian Star, proved the perfect container for the delicate ham and the fragrantly oily salami. The provolone was creamy and the crumbly feta added a saltiness that complimented the slightly sweet pesto. As I ate this sandwich, layers and layers of flavors played a delightful symphony on my tongue.
The second half of my Italian Star sandwich make it only until 10 a.m. It’s now 12:30 p.m. and I find my mind drifting back to those flavors and wishing I’d ordered two, three, maybe four of one of the best and deliciously authentic Italian sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
– Reviewed by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Read our review of Carlo’s other wonderful culinary endeavor Fortuna Ristorante Italiano.