Brian Vasile and Andy Seligman, the owners of Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda and Grand Central Bar in Adams Morgan, were lunching in the District awhile back, mulling their next project, when the New York natives started reminiscing about how much they missed the neighborhood Italian delis of their youth. Seligman was particularly enthusiastic about a place called V&S Italian Deli in Boca Raton, near where he attended college at Florida Atlantic University.
The conversation turned into a trip down memory lane for Seligman when the restaurateurs hopped on a plane, ate at V&S, and met the owners, brothers Salvatore and Vincent Falcone. Smitten with the old-school formula, the Washington operators asked if the siblings could help them re-create the feel of their shop in the District.
Thus was born Capo Italian Deli in Shaw in June. If the staff has yet to grasp the expected banter or speed, some of the food shows promise.
The owners have the bread down. My base of choice is the seed-freckled Italian loaf, sturdy enough to handle a full load of meat, accessories and vinaigrette. Produced by Lyon Bakery, the crusty, pliable bread makes an admirable base for salami, provolone and capicola, or cured pork shoulder, plus whatever finishing touches you want. (The house-made Italian dressing, available for purchase by the bottle, makes any sandwich zing.) Tuna salad sharpened with red onion is pleasing. Chicken salad gets points for big chunks of moist white meat and just a suggestion of mayonnaise. Snappy Italian sausage with melting red peppers is another score. Meanwhile, the sly heat in a filling of chicken breast and blue cheese underscores the submarine’s “Buffalo” billing.
Signs parked outside and posted inside the onetime bank ask customers to be patient while their meats are sliced to order. “You can’t hurry love & you can’t hurry a good sandwich,” reads one notice. The only time the crew pre-assembles anything is after 11 p.m. on weekends, to accommodate the crush of bar crawlers and other night owls.
There’s sufficient entertainment to occupy one’s time, one day Turner Classic Movies playing on an overhead screen and an animated puppy waiting for its master outside the front window. The walls blend some of the owner’s old family photos with vintage shots of the football team at neighboring Cardozo High School.
“You should call ahead and order over the phone next time,” a cashier told me after a wait of 15 minutes for a recent order of several subs and a slab of lasagna that played up ricotta and set my teeth on edge with its sweet tomato sauce. Side dishes (cucumber salad, broccoli rabe) are ordinary. Plastic cups of tiramisu make for creamy desserts to go.
There are no stools, but if you absolutely can’t wait to sink your teeth into a fistful of cold sliced roast beef or hot eggplant parm, there’s a narrow counter in the shop for chomping down.
What looks like the door to a freezer actually opens to a 50-seat bar, currently open Friday and Saturday nights after 9 p.m. Some reports refer to the space, which includes a bar within a bank vault, as a “speakeasy,” but the back room, Vasile assures us, is perfectly legal fun.
715 Florida Ave. NW. 202-827-8012. capodc.com. Sandwiches, $8.95 to $13.95.