May 5, 2023 | OPINION | By Sam Treat
My grandfather, Gianni Rava, immigrated from Italy to the United States during World War II as a Jewish refugee. Born in Venice, my grandfather’s love for his home culture has never faded. As a child, I relished the trips he took me on to ‘the Hill,’ the fabled Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis.
The Hill, once a thriving community of Italian immigrants, complete with markets, bodegas, street vendors, and more, is now far from its heyday. Still, a few stalwart delis, bakeries, and grocery stores continue to proudly offer traditional products imported directly from Italy. It was in those stores – the delis in particular – that I developed a deep love for cured meats, aged cheeses, and golden-brown bread.
On one instance, at a butcher and deli called Volpi’s, my grandfather happened to know the proprietor, an elderly man who only spoke Italian. Listening to them converse in their first language, I realized they were discussing me. After a nod and a handshake, the older man beckoned me to follow him.
He took me back to the curing rooms, where I saw a staggering amount of pork products hanging from the rafters, cheese wheels stored on massive shelves one could only reach with a ladder, and a few dedicated employees milling around to make it all happen – while speaking only Italian. I have long loved the taste and style of Italian fare, but seeing the dedication, time, and precision put into the food gave me a new appreciation for the cuisine of my ancestral people.
That is why, when my esteemed boss, Andy Obringer of the Adam F. Press Fitness Center, colloquially known as “Andy’s Fun Place,” suggested that I review Mollica’s, I enthusiastically agreed. I was forewarned by other respected figures that I should focus on the deli; the sandwiches in particular.
Mollica’s is, or at least attempts to be, as authentically Italian-American as possible. Complete with red and white checkered tablecloths, much like the ones in every restaurant scene of every Mafia movie (“Godfather”, looking at you), Mollica’s embodies the Italian-American aesthetic. Looking like it belongs more next to a Bronx bodega in New York City than a Colorado Springs smoke shop, the authenticity does not stop at the decor.
Mollica’s has a lot to offer; the store boasts a restaurant with sit down service, a walk-up deli counter, and a full selection of imported and housemade Italian grocery products. The deli menu is impressive and complete. From the lengthy selection of sandwiches to choose from, I chose four. The Grinder (sausage links, provolone, bell peppers, red sauce), The Italian Hero (salami, capicola, lettuce, tomato, provolone, Italian dressing), The Bravo (Italian sausage patties, provolone, lettuce, mayo, bell peppers), and finally, the Dominic (meatballs, provolone, red sauce). All sandwiches came on firm Italian rolls, and all were served warm except for the Italian Hero.
The Grinder, whose main selling point is the homemade sausage links, was filling and delicious. The homemade sausage was full of flavor, well-cooked, and left little to be desired. The bread, typically more reserved for subs than sausage links, held up well and left me full.
The Italian Hero, the only cold sandwich, was delicious. Packed like a Jimmy John’s sandwich might be, the cured Italian meats were more flavorful than anything one might get at a sub shop. Unfortunately, the sandwich was a bit dry; it could have used a dollop more of the Italian dressing.
The Bravo was by far my favorite. Italian sausage patties are a rarity, but here they were perfect. The housemade sausage was cooked well, with a strong outer crust of flavor and crunch. This sausage, also available uncooked and frozen, is key to Mollica’s. A homemade recipe that has been working for decades (since 1987, I’m told) is still working – I guarantee it.
Finally, Dominic. As a meatball sub connoisseur, I was ready with my judgment. The meatballs, like the sausage, were homemade and carried the sandwich. The red sauce, a key element of the sandwich, was a bit lacking. I would have liked it to be hotter and more flavorful, but I can’t complain when the meatballs leave little room for any better flavor.
The service staff were helpful, straightforward, and answered all my questions with patience and a smile. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the budget to delve into their entrees or desserts. However, they have a wide range of Italian desserts. I particularly love the amaretti style cookies and would recommend them to anybody. The wine list contains selections to meet any budget, from $7 glasses to $21; no good Italian meal is complete without a good glass of Italian wine.
Overall, Mollica’s lives up to what it claims to be: an Italian deli that offers sandwiches in both the four-inch and eight-inch sizes, at reasonable prices and with delicious flavors. The housemade sausage and meatball-based sandwiches are the best things to order, as the flavors are richer and more vibrant than any sub you might find at a chain.
Plus, if you are more of a do-it-yourself eater (a chef, I am told) then you can always buy their premade sausage and meatball options. While it doesn’t quite live up to the authenticity of Italian delis where they cure their own meat and age their own cheeses, it is a close second and that is a win for me (and my people).