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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Next Generation Ensures Smooth Operations at La Gioias’ in Schenectady: A Look at the Table


SCHENECTADY — I ‍recently had the pleasure of visiting La​ Gioias’ Deli,‌ a beloved institution on​ Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady. Now ‌under the management of the next generation, the deli ‍has undergone a facelift with new‌ countertops, shelving, appliances, and lighting, not to mention a beautifully refinished wood floor. However, the heart and soul of the place, the food, remains as authentic and ​delightful as ever, and the staff are as warm and welcoming as always.

So, in essence, nothing has really changed.

A bit of history: La Gioias’ has been a cornerstone of the Goose Hill neighborhood in Schenectady since 1989. It was originally opened by Anna DiCocco and Modesta Morson, who for over three ⁤decades delighted customers with ​their homemade meatballs, sauce, and pasta, as well as their catered food and in-store prepared meals.

But that’s just scratching the surface: The deli also ‌offered a ⁤variety of quality meats and cheeses,‌ Boar’s⁢ Head provisions, fresh produce, olives, frozen ravioli, and much more.

The store temporarily closed its doors in June 2022 when the original owners decided to hang up their aprons. But fear not, their successor, Laura Marino (Morson’s daughter and DiCocca’s niece), who has been in the kitchen since the deli’s⁣ inception, has taken over the reins to the delight of many loyal customers.

“We’re ⁢still making everything the same way ‌as before,” Marino assured me. “But we’ve also added more salads and soups to our menu, and we’re always open ⁤to suggestions from our customers.”

The layout of ⁢the store is familiar and comforting.‍ The counter is on the right, coolers and freezers line​ the opposite wall, and racks filled​ with ⁤imported Italian goods are in between. Perecca’s bread⁤ is displayed in ⁢the window, and their tomato pie is on​ the⁢ counter. The meats are showcased behind ⁢glass, and cold provisions such as cheese and sausage⁤ are kept ⁢in‌ a refrigerated cooler nearby.

My Italian friend Virginia and I browsed⁣ through the racks of food, noting the Cora⁤ tomato products, semolina flour, Baci⁢ candy, and lemon ⁣cookies from Brooklyn. I was particularly intrigued by the gluten-free‌ lasagna sheets, premade meals, and fancy frozen desserts.

There was a steady flow of customers when we joined the line. I opted for a frozen lasagna and a fancy dessert, while Virginia chose a package ⁣of⁤ Balconi hazelnut-filled rolled snack cakes. The service was swift and excellent.

We also ordered a mixed Italian sub for Virginia and a‌ capicola sub for myself. Half-subs are priced at $7, or $8 with cheese. Full subs ‌are $12.96, or $14.45 with cheese. We decided on half-subs.

I​ regret not noticing the chef’s salad ($9.50), which comes with ham, turkey, and American ‍cheese, or the ‍garden salad ($8). They also offer an antipasto ($10.50) that includes salami, provolone, and capicola.

La⁢ Gioias’ uses rolls from Prinzo’s Bakery in Albany. “They’re the best,”⁣ said the friendly counterperson, who turned out to be Laura Marino⁣ herself.

I added mortadella to my⁤ sandwich, and Virginia wasn’t sure if she liked it. Marino, standing at the slicer, offered us each a slice to try. It was the kind with pistachios and it ‍was absolutely delicious. Virginia was‍ a⁤ fan.

Virginia was also unsure about the capicola on the ​Italian mix sub. Was it spicy? “It’s not spicy,” Marino assured us. She then handed Virginia a piece of capicola to try, which she approved of.

You can choose between a roll or a⁣ wrap, and they also offer gluten-free rolls. Daily specials include Wednesday’s meatball and sausage-and-peppers hot subs, and Friday’s broccoli pizza and fried ‍haddock.

Marino expertly wrapped our subs in white paper, and packed the​ Italian and oil-and-vinegar dressings separately in a plastic bag to prevent any leaks. I left ⁤with a grocery bag that also included​ macaroni salad, a small⁤ tray of ready-to-cook lasagna, ‍a Prinzo’s roll to accompany it, and a fancy Bindi frozen stracciatella for Eric’s dessert.

Back at home, we unwrapped the subs and dug in. The room ​fell silent as we savored our meals. Virginia was particularly fond⁤ of the ‌Italian mix sub, noting how the flavors of the capicola, salami, and provolone blended ‌beautifully. She also appreciated the‍ thickness ​of the provolone and the ⁣crispness of the iceberg lettuce. ​“Everything has a nice⁢ chew,” she commented, indicating that the sandwich was⁢ substantial​ and satisfying.

Eric drizzled Italian ‍dressing on his capicola sub, which I’d supplemented with mortadella and provolone. “The dressing has just a hint of vinegar,” he noted.

“I could use a fork and ⁢knife,” Eric mused, though he managed to eat his sub without one by approaching it​ from⁣ the side. “There’s ‍a cascade of different flavors. The cheese really brings everything together.”

I​ sampled a piece from each sub, starting with the capicola. The ​ham was molded with bits of fat around each section and color around the outside from seasoning. It had ⁣just enough heat to let you know what ⁣it was.

The thickly sliced provolone was buttery and rich. I let a slice of mortadella linger‍ in my mouth⁤ so the fatty bits melted away. There were slices of pistachio that I‍ picked out and crunched. The Prinzo’s roll was soft but had a crisp crust, as if it had been baked that morning and left unwrapped. It was perfect.

I picked a slice of salami from the Italian sub and savored the slightly ⁣smoky taste, which was a pleasant surprise. ⁢Perhaps the best salami I’ve ever had. The ⁤meats ⁢were cut with precision, the ⁢mortadella ​as thin as can be, but the capicola and ⁣salami a bit⁣ thicker, resulting in a more substantial bite. Absolutely delicious.

The subs are packed like what Eric calls top-loaders, hot dog buns that are ⁤split down the middle and stuffed from bottom up for an impressive ⁣presentation.

The macaroni salad was a hit with Eric and Virginia, who praised its onion flavor, the bits of ⁣carrot and celery, and the hint⁣ of black pepper. “Quite​ nice, actually,” Virginia judged.

Later, I baked the frozen lasagna at 350 degrees ‍until it bubbled around the edges. Paired with bread and salad, it made a lovely⁣ dinner​ for‌ two.

“This is really good,” Eric commented. “It’s well-sauced and there’s​ a nice balance between cheese,​ filling, and pasta.”

He detected⁢ a hint of heat in the lasagna, possibly ⁤from the sauce, which he thought added depth to the dish.

After our satisfying⁣ dinner, Eric indulged in his imported‍ dessert, stracciatella. In⁣ Italian, stracciatella means “little rags,” ⁤which refers to the appearance of chocolate shavings scattered through the vanilla gelato.

“It’s⁣ very good, whatever it is,” he said, after several appreciative “Mmm” sounds. He was delighted to discover a layer of chocolate syrup at the bottom of the dessert, which he promptly finished. “Delicious,” he declared, setting down his spoon.

Mission accomplished. Everything was as wonderful as the last time I visited.

“We’re expanding our horizons,” Marino shared with us.

So far, they’ve⁢ added stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, and gluten-free ‍products to their offerings. On Saturdays, they bake their ⁤own bread and cookies. You can check their Facebook page ⁤to see what’s available.

“I’m on it all the time,” ‍Marino⁢ admitted.

Next time you’re in the area, stop by to say⁣ hello and order your Easter bread, hand pie, and ricotta pie for the holiday. You’re sure to leave with a big bag ⁤of delicious goodies.

Our visit was a delightful‍ experience. We enjoyed chatting with Marino, who is incredibly friendly. She confessed, “If I could talk to everyone⁢ all day long ‍I’d be happy, but I have to work.”

La Gioias’ Italian Deli

WHERE: 2003 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady; 518-280-2235; lagioiasdeli.com. See La Gioias’ Deli on Facebook.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.⁢ Tuesday to Friday; 9 a.m. ‌to 3‌ p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday

HOW MUCH: $24.64,⁤ lunch for two

MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay. ADA compliant. Parking on side of building or on street.

Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton
Emily Stanton, a skillful journalist previously based in Boston, is adept at covering a diverse array of stories. Her thorough and engaging reporting style, honed with a Master's in Journalism from Boston University, focuses on community-relevant stories.
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