Tara Francolini was prompted to open Francolini’s Italian Deli when she started missing the sandwiches of her New Jersey youth. The Italian sandwich shop pops up every Tuesday at The Rabbit’s Foot on Prytania Street and will soon open a brick-and-mortar on at Tchoupitoulas.
Francolini was born and raised in New Jersey and, after attending school in Boston, she moved overseas and lived in Australia and New Zealand. During her travels abroad, she began missing the Italian sandwiches she grew up on. When she returned to Massachusetts, she realized how unique Italian sandwiches are to the New Jersey area.
“When I was overseas, I realized that sandwiches, especially Italian sandwiches, aren’t really a thing,” she said. “It was something that I missed. Even in Massachusetts, Italian sandwiches aren’t as prevalent.”
Francolini moved to New Orleans five years ago and was, once again, confronted with a lack of Italian sandwich options. New Orleans is, of course, the city of po’ boys, but Francolini was craving something that could be grabbed on the way to work or packed up and enjoyed as an easy lunch.
“The sandwich culture back home is grab-and-go,” she explained. “You get your sandwich and go on with your day; it travels well and it’s convenient.”
Francolini started working toward her sandwich shop with the help of Cesar Nunez, a chef she met when she was managing Longway Tavern. While the concept was in the early planning stages, Nunez moved and the plans for Francolini’s shop began to fade.
“When he moved, I was crushed because he was the only person I wanted to open a shop with,” Francolini said. “It was at the beginning of Covid and I wasn’t sure what the next step was going to be.”
On a whim, she reached out to Nunez and asked if he had plans to return to New Orleans. She was thrilled when he told her he had just been offered a job in the city and was returning.
From there, the plans for Francolini’s began to take shape.
An authentic Italian sandwich is an entirely different type of sandwich from the po’ boy, As Tara Francolini explained, it starts with the bread.
“The bread is different — it has a density to it, so it can support all of the dressings and meat like an outer shell,” she said. The sandwiches are made with sub rolls or housemade focaccia.
After experimenting with different recipes, Francolini and Nunez found bread that worked for their sandwich; Ayu Bakehouse makes it for the sandwiches.
As for what goes into the sandwich, it’s all about sliced meats. An Italian sandwich focuses more on sliced meat and dressings like balsamic vinegar. Don’t order one of these sandwiches dressed, though the classic Italian sandwich, which is a Francolini’s staple, does have shredded lettuce and tomatoes (when they are in season).
“There are a lot of specific ingredients to these types of sandwiches and not a lot of extra things added on,” Francolini explained. “On the classic Italian you’ll have lettuce, tomato, and onion, but on the other sandwiches it’s all about the meats; everything is curated.”
Francolini’s uses Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, a stronghold up north. They also use other meats, like salami and prosciutto, that are imported from Italy.
Francolini’s offers three or four sandwiches every Tuesday at The Rabbit’s Foot. The classic Italian — made with prosciutto cotto, mortadella, hot capicola, Genoa salami, sharp provolone, pepperoncini, red onion, shredded lettuce and house vinaigrette — is offered weekly. Other rotating sandwiches include The Dima — a chicken sandwich made with fresh mozzarella, hot soppressata, Calabrian chili aioli and shredded lettuce — and The Uncle John — made with crumbled hot Italian sausage, grilled peppers, and onions, melted provolone and grilled jalapeños.
“We usually try to do one hot sandwich, one chicken sandwich, and the Italian,” Francolini said. “When we open our sandwich shop, we’ll have a more extensive menu of fifteen to twenty sandwiches with regular specials.”
The shop on Tchoupitoulas will also include an Italian mini-market offering grab-and-go foods such as fresh salad, pasta salad, biscotti, meat, cheese and taralli, an Italian snack food similar in texture to a pretzel.
To keep crowds well-fed during the Mardi Gras parade season, Francolini’s at The Rabbit’s Foot will offer grab-and-go sandwiches on most parade days.
Tara Francolini has been overjoyed with her sandwiches’ success so far, and she looks forward to opening the shop and welcoming customers in the coming months.
“The support from the community has been really cool,” she said.
Francolini’s is at The Rabbit’s Foot, 2042 Prytania St., every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. or whenever they sell out.
Carnival grab-and-go parade sandwiches will also be available at the Rabbit’s Foot on Thursday (Feb. 16), Friday (Feb. 17) and Lundi Gras (Feb. 20) from 3 p.m. until they are sold out and on Saturday (Feb. 18), Sunday (Feb. 19) and Mardi Gras (Feb. 21) beginning at 10 a.m.
The new brick-and-mortar deli at 3987 Tchoupitoulas is expected to open in April. For updates, go to www.francolinis.com or follow on Instagram @francolinisnola.
Reporter Marielle Songy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.