There are 20 glorious sandwiches on the menu at Francolini’s, which opened to much fanfare at 3987 Tchoupitlouas Street in mid-July — 14 of them hot, six cold. There are sandwiches piled with prosciutto cotto, mortadella, salami, capicola, prosciutto di Parma, speck, hot and sweet soppressata, and rare roast beef. There are sandwiches stacked with chicken cutlets, pork and beef meatballs, grilled, thin-sliced chicken, and sweet or hot crumbled sausage. There are vegetarian sandwiches layering portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers with fresh mozzarella and arugula, and an eggplant parm completing a trio of parm sandwiches that includes chicken and meatball.
Each sandwich is a carefully designed and composed creation born from owner Tara Francolini’s upbringing in her home state of New Jersey, where she was immersed in the deli traditions of the Northeast. Francolini’s sandwiches are a unique addition to this land of po’ boys, easing an ache for anyone who’s ever traveled to Philly, New Jersey, or New York and been blown away by the region’s Italian-style deli sandwiches — or for those from that area, meeting an even more profound, bordering-on-urgent need.
Common sandwich accoutrements include marinated artichokes, Calabrian chili vinaigrette, fennel salad, Italian salsa verde, sweet pickled garlic, and spicy broccoli rabe stems. And then there is the bread. “We developed our sub roll recipe over many months and finally got it to the place where we liked it,” says Francolini. Ayu Bakehouse bakes those rolls, which are used for hot sandwiches and cutlet sandwiches. Francolini’s makes the focaccia in-house, however, for the cold sandwiches, “We think it’s pretty awesome,” says Francolini. “It’s super pillowy and soft and creates a massive sandwich.”
Francolini created Francolini’s with business partner Cesar Nunez. They met while both working at Longway Tavern (which is now The Will & The Way), he as the chef and her as a manager. After that Francolini worked at the popular Blue Oak BBQ before reconnecting with Nunez to create the Francolini’s pop-up while also developing the restaurant.
It didn’t take long for that pop-up, which operated as a pick-up operation out of the Rabbit’s Foot, to create a great deal of buzz. Part of the appeal of the sandwiches is certainly their relative newness — there isn’t much like them in town, at least not to the extent of the Francolini’s opening menu. But the fanaticism stems mostly from their quality — they are simply delicious, sandwiches that could rival those found in Northeast delis that have been at it for decades.
Below, behold a sampling of the glorious sandwiches of Francolini’s.
“One of the questions we keep getting is, ‘Why don’t you have a muffuletta?’” says Francolini. “We don’t because a) there are a million spots down here to get a great one, and b) they don’t exist outside of New Orleans. The Gandolfini is our alternate option, as you get the spicy olive salad but it’s instead paired with hot sopressata, fresh mozzarella, and arugula in a Calabrian chili vinaigrette.”
“The Underdog is named as such because it’s the underdog of the sandwiches — and our favorite,” says Francolini. “People have a terrible take on mortadella because it usually gets sliced way too thick and comes out tasting like weird Bologna. We cut ours super thin so that it melts in your mouth. The fattiness is then paired with an unctuous salsa verde and pickle mix of garlic, broccoli rabe stems, and mustard seed to round everything out as well as some sharp provolone. Most Italian sandwiches that you find up north don’t usually have lettuce or arugula on them, but during our pop-up, we noticed that most people down South expected that. This is one of the few sandwiches we offer that doesn’t have the lettuce and it still tastes pretty awesome.”
The Freddie Freeman
“A bunch of our sandwiches are on the ‘heavy’ side but the goal is to also have lighter options that are still flavorful,” says Francolini. “Our grilled chicken is pretty awesome — we hate dry grilled chicken and have done everything possible to make sure that ours isn’t. We paired it with pesto, fontina, roasted red peppers, and arugula in lemon dijon vinaigrette so that you can have something a little lighter and fresher.”
The Uncle John
“This is our take on sausage, peppers, and onions,” says Francolini. “We use crumbled Italian hot sausage instead of the link. This way when it’s mixed with the provolone you get everything in every bite. It’s named after my uncle who loves spicy things and that’s why there’s a bunch of grilled jalapenos in there as well. It’s almost like a Philly cheesesteak, but Italian style.”
“This is our Italian with the addition of Creole tomato,” says Francolini. “Every deli up north has its own rendition of the Italian. When we created ours I spoke to 15 different friends and every single one of them had their own interpretation of what a classic Italian was. Ours comes with four meats: prosciutto cotto, Genoa salami, mortadella, and hot capicola, as well as sharp provolone, pepperoncini, shaved red onion, shredded lettuce, and house vinaigrette. We only have tomatoes when they’re in season because mealy, out-of-season tomatoes ruin sandwiches.”
“This is our roast beef sandwich. It’s not as classically Italian but definitely a classic Northeast sandwich,” says Francolini. “Down here, hot roast beef is a thing, but up north, you always get cold, thin, sliced rare roast beef and that’s what we’re doing here. We pair it with our horseradish aioli shaved red onions, fresh dill, and lettuce in a mustard vinaigrette with fontina cheese to kind of give you that classic pairing. It’s a really nice option on a hot day.”