Uniquely NOLA: Italian sub at Francesca has harmony like Crosby, Stills, and Nash

A lot of what we have already or plan to write about food on this primarily music-oriented site are little snippets of New Orleans experiences that we enjoy. Attempting to properly tell our readers about our favorite things, experiences that you can only find in New Orleans and the surrounding geography. Little secrets to get out of lines, bars we’re particularly fond of, people we’ve encountered who we think are worth knowing and knowing about. We’ll deviate from that a bit here, and in this case, we are writing more about food quality than experience. We’re not critics, and we’re not trying to be. But every now and then, there’s a bite worth talking about.

Francesca by Katie’s, as its long-form name alludes, is the offshoot of Scot Craig’s Mid-city staple neighborhood gem Katie’s. It’s a deli and a pizzeria, and like so many of the great new restaurants that have opened in New Orleans recently, Francesca is simple and plays to its owners’ strengths. The restaurant’s concept (mission statement, if you will) reminds me of Adam Biderman’s original Company Burger on Freret in the sense that Scot and his wife Stephanie know what they do well, and they don’t over-complicate that thing. In Company Burger’s case, the “one thing” was obviously a burger, arguably one of the best ever created. Able to withstand the burger joint craze that was going on at the time, as it seemed like a new burger restaurant was opening every week.

Applied to Francesca, that “one thing”, in our opinion, are the sandwiches. And particularly the Italian sub. It’s not that the pizzas are not worthy, they are. They’re really good, we especially like the restaurant’s namesake pizza The Francesca. Prosciutto, salami, fruit, basil. The last time I ordered this pie, the seasonal fruit was blackberry which added the essential sweet component and very nicely complimented the smoky prosciutto. Really unique, really delicious.

The menu also includes an array of burgers, salads, and sides. The burgers are big and juicy but don’t really stand out in a crowded burger market. The Italian Salad is really good with a really nice Italian dressing that is neither too tangy or too bland. The theme for Francesca’s is evident in each section of the menu: good, fresh ingredients assembled with the collective output in mind. Simple stuff done really, really well. The Meatball sub is really awesome, for example. The highlight of the Sides section are the “Frips”, a mix between a fry and a chip. A little bit gimmicky, but it works as a side and a nice compliment to the main offerings.

The atmosphere at Francesca is nothing special. No bar. You order at the counter and then receive a table card marking your spot for delivery. Ours was a photo of David Hasselhof, I saw Kevin Bacon too. The front area where the order counter is also has a small refrigerated section where you can buy prosciutto and salami, sparkling water, cheeses, etc. Scot and/or Stephanie are almost always behind the counter, and the chef takes the time to come out from the kitchen regularly to greet his customers. The restaurant is a perfect fit for the surrounding Lakeview neighborhood, child-friendly and accommodating.

None of what I’ve written above justifies us spending time describing Francesca’s under our Uniquely NOLA series. Child-friendly neighborhood joint with good pizzas and sandwiches. Why am I wasting your time with that common of a concept?

Well, it’s really one sandwich that stands out at Francesca, a top five offering in a city that boasts Central Grocery’s muffaletta, the banh mi at Dong Phuong, the Robert at Stein’s. Francesca’s Italian sub should become a staple of your weekly dining routine. It’s that good.

Italian sub, Francesca’s.

What stands out about Francesca’s Italian sub? Well, it’s not one ingredient that really wows, it’s the combination of amazing bread, perfectly applied Italian dressing, three complementary meats with a slice of provolone cheese, and simple but effective dressing ingredients. Not one ingredient overpowers another, it’s an amazing melange of harmony. This is the Crosby, Stills, and Nash of sandwiches.

I’ll start on the bread. This is not like your typical stale po-boy bread by any stretch, whose purpose is to stay rigid to absorb the roast beef gravy or some other dressing. No, this is the perfect sandwich baguette, soft and tender inside with a chewy crust that’s neither too hard nor too soft. If you took the bread away from the sandwich and bit into it, it would literally melt in your mouth.

Another angle.

The central ingredients of Francesca’s Italian sub are a cohesive and thick pile of meats and cheese. Capicola with beautiful but not overly pervasive marbling. Slightly spicy Genoa salami adds a little heat to the overall sandwich, but it’s subtle and definitely not over-powering. Mortadella, not my favorite on its own, provides a nice support in this context. The meat trio sits beautifully on top of a decently thick slice of provolone, again more complementary than noticeable in its own right.

The Core.

The core of the sandwich described above could stand alone as a fine sandwich, but it’s the toppings that bring Francesca’s Italian sub into competition with the best sandwiches in New Orleans. First, a subtle layer of Italian dressing is applied to the top bread, it’s a little spicy, a little tangy, and a little sweet but not too much of either. It’s almost as if the dressing is sprayed onto the bread, just enough to moisten and enhance the overall flavor. Not sloppy or drenched at all.

The rest of the Italian sub sounds boring and pedestrian, but I promise you these are essential ingredients to tie the sandwich together, much like Lebowski’s coveted rug. Thinly sliced iceberg lettuce, perfectly fresh and crisp. Sliced Roma tomatoes that are the ideal size for a sub like this remaining entirely within the confines of the bread, again as fresh as they come. White onions sliced vertically. Pepperoncini peppers to enhance the spicy kick of the salami.

Under the hood.

There’s no right way to eat this sandwich. I squeeze it together to get the feel of the proper bread pressing into the thick core of meat and cheese. The taste of each simple yet carefully selected and procured ingredient comes together to form something new, something attention-grabbing, something worth coming back for. One bite, and you’re hooked.

The Squeeze.

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