No, this is not about a sparring match between Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini. This is about the other type of Italian heroes, the ones we in the United States probably know and care much more about. This is about the Italian cold cut sandwich — one of the great lunches this country has to offer. Assorted deli meats, cheese, peppers, and whatever other condiments your heart desires, stuffed inside of a soft, freshly baked roll. Many of the most popular versions in Los Angeles can be found in delis which have been around for decades.
We began at All About the Bread, a sparsely decorated deli thrust into a small mini-mall just west of La Brea. We're not sure that we understand the silhouettes of people painted on the white interior walls, and ignored them almost immediately upon the sight of their bread being freshly baked in the back. So we grabbed a deli number, noticed that nobody was using them, and then waited for somebody to point to us and ask for our order. Soon after, we were seated outside with The Godfather ($6.50 for a small), which contains provolone cheese, Genoa salami, ham, prosciutto, mortadella, and spicy capicola. We ordered it with “the works,” which included hot peppers, and the other usual fare.
First of all, it is impossible to even look at this sandwich without immediately comparing it to the Bay Cities Godmother. The bread is very similar, with its crackling pliability; they both use Boar's Head meat and cheese; and the style of condiment preparation is very close too. And just as at Bay Cities, “the works” turns it into a dripping, sloppy, and delightfully messy creation. There is crunch, there is fat, there is salt, and there is acid. Is it an imitation? Perhaps — there is no feasible way that they created this sandwich without at least knowing of, and having eaten The Godmother. It is a good imitation? Certainly.
Wally's Cheese Box is a very different place. It is a specialty shop, residing in a tiny space mere feet from the main Wally's Wine and Spirits. There, the main attraction is a good selection of very fine meats, cheeses, forcemeats, and the like. They also source their bread from a private bakery called Bread Lounge, making their decision to prepare sandwiches a welcome inevitability. Wally's Italian Hero came on soft ciabatta, with provolone, Genoa salami, prosciutto, mortadella, and capicola. It was a smaller sandwich, and also more expensive ($8.99), but when working with higher quality ingredients, the price will tend to go up a bit. There was a certain elegance to it, particularly when contrasted with The Godfather. Colorful mixed greens replaced the crunchy shredded stuff, and the condiments felt as if they were prepared with a lighter touch.
Our lone criticism of the sandwich is in the proportions. When working with such fine ingredients, the balance is much more important. For our taste, there was a little bit too much lettuce and tad too much cheese, which lessened the purity of the meat's flavor. Some bites toward the end of the sandwich, which contained that superior ratio, were excellent.
So who is the victor? All About the Bread is a construction worker's lunch, the sort of thing you can sit down to and then feel emboldened by (and very full) after eating. Wally's, on the other hand, makes you feel more like a poet, like the sort of person who could sit on a park bench alone for hours in the afternoon, enjoying the simpler pleasures of the world. To be honest, we can certainly see ourselves craving either, depending on the circumstances of our lunch. As for today? Call us sentimental, but we'll take the one at Wally's — even if we wind up removing a slice of cheese and a pinch of lettuce.