The name conjures an elegant, bustling cafe - in Milan, perhaps, with marble counters and a steaming, well-tuned espresso machine. But, name aside, Amorini Panini, which opened last month in Penn Quarter, looks more like a Potbelly franchise than a grand European cafe.
It doesn't aim to deliver authentic Italian sandwiches, either.
"We wanted something more Americanized," Rich Twilley says. In a neighborhood overrun with $10 sandwiches, Twilley and his business partner, Matt Gray, also wanted to keep prices competitive.
Twilley's sandwich experience comes from his years working at the Subway sandwich chain. And Amorini has that fast-casual feel. There are chips and cookies, and you fill your own drinks at a Pepsi dispenser. But instead of subs, there are thin-but-satisfying pressed sandwiches, available on a choice of sourdough or multigrain bread from local favorite Lyon Bakery. In the morning, the menu offers "breakfastini" with various combinations of eggs, ham and cheese and one sandwich pressed with Nutella ($1.99 to $2.99).
The Italian-inspired combinations are the best bet. Our favorite was the Prosciutto Tuscany ($5.99), a thin layer of silky, salty ham with provolone cheese, thin asparagus spears and vinegary hot peppers to balance the flavors. The Italiano ($5.99), a pressed version of the old-fashioned Italian sub, made our meat-loving samplers happy indeed.
Less successful were the American-style sandwiches and salads. The Penn Quarter Turkey ($5.99) was bland, with a few slices of flavorless deli meat, Swiss and a slice of tomato that would have disappointed even in the dead of winter. The Caprese salad ($5.99) is an unusual interpretation and not one we'd like to see repeated: chopped Romaine with shredded mozzarella, grape tomatoes and dollops of basil pesto on top.
Two soups are offered each day. The fire-roasted vegetable ($3.49, cup; $4.99, bowl) we tried tasted like canned soup, but saltier.
Amorini's concept - do one thing and do it well - is admirable. And the prices are right. But in early days, the place hasn't quite delivered on its promise.
- Jane Black (Good to Go, October 13, 2010)