As a huge fan of “The Sopranos,” I’ve long idealized the concept of an authentic Italian meat market. On that show, the pork store served as a clubhouse of sorts for Tony’s crew, but also as the source of the Soprano household’s cold cuts. The business Tony conducted there put food on his family’s table, both figuratively and literally. I’ve lived in small towns for the majority of my life and have yet to experience one of these genuine Italian institutions.
After eating lunch at Dioli’s Italian Market in Winston-Salem, I feel like I’ve made it halfway there.
The fast-casual alternative to the more upscale Dioli’s Trattoria downtown, Dioli’s Italian Market is a pretty simple operation located on Reynolda Road. Geared to quickly turn around a large lunch rush, they offer numerous cold-cut sandwiches and a wide variety of homemade desserts. Dioli’s also sells olive oil, wine and fresh meats and cheeses. It might be the epitome of an authentic Italian deli if not for its location.
Connected to a Starbucks and a T-Mobile store, Dioli’s operates out of a strip mall suite that hints that it was likely a Jimmy Johns or Quiznos in its past incarnation. Though modern and polished in its appearance, it still has its charms. The interior, heavy on earth tones, has a homey design with a hardwood floor and two huge, wooden dining room tables, which are regularly shared by multiple parties. Customers can also eat at a window-side counter or two small outdoor tables.
Overall, the ambience is part chain, part mom-and-pop, but perhaps that’s fitting of a place like this located in central North Carolina.
Dioli’s doesn’t seem too concerned with its ill-fitting appearance, though, and I’m fine with that. The emphasis here is on the product, which is exquisite.
I keep things simple and order a salami sandwich on ciabatta bread. The sandwich, roughly 8 inches long, is packed with salami and dressed with provolone, red onions, arugula, mustard and mayo. Sure, it’s a difficult item to get wrong, but I honestly can’t remember eating a more fresh-tasting deli sandwich in my life.
The salami and cheese are both top notch, offset perfectly by the flavorful onions and arugula. Between these elements and the mustard, there are five different flavors that can take over with any given bite, a testament to the quality of the ingredients. The delicious ciabatta bread is predictably a tad tough on the first bite, but is still toasted to perfection. I’ve always been a sucker for bread lightly coated with flour.
Dioli’s seems to be quite a popular lunch spot, as the line of customers almost extends to the front door when I arrive at noon. Even still, the establishment runs very smoothly. I make my order, and by the time it’s my turn at the register my sandwich is ready.
In between these steps, though, I have no choice but to gaze at the overwhelming dessert counter, practically a museum of sweet treats. There are tons of options, literally all of which look appealing. It’s a genius system, really. I can’t fathom that someone could wait in line and not at least consider buying a dessert. For me, the conflict lies in choosing just one.
I never take decisions like this lightly, and even with plenty of time to pick a dessert, doing so is extremely difficult. Although the turtle cheesecake is the most enticing option, I feel obligated to try an Italian dessert, so I go with a sfogiatelle, a flaky pastry filled with orange-flavored ricotta cheese. I’ve never eaten a sfogiatelle before and just can’t pass up this opportunity. I’ll admit that this is also somewhat of a “Sopranos”-influenced choice. “Sfogiatelle” is just way too much fun to say and I take a tiny amount of pride in correctly pronouncing it (thanks, Paulie Walnuts).
Unfortunately, dessert proves to be a casualty of my over-thinking. My sfogiatelle is pretty dry and ultimately, a bit disappointing.
It seems short on filling, so the taste is pretty subtle, albeit savory. It probably would have been profoundly more enjoyable fresh out of the oven, but I still would’ve liked more filling. The sfogiatelle is one of the cheapest dessert options though, so maybe I should’ve tempered my expectations.
I’ll likely return to Dioli’s Italian Market if I’m in Winston-Salem and in need of a quick lunch. Deli sandwiches have vast potential to be unremarkable, but at Dioli’s, the quality ingredients make them exceptional.
And next time, I’m definitely ordering a slice of turtle cheesecake.
Unlike “The Sopranos,” that should give me some closure.
Dioli’s Italian Market; 2898 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem; 336.724.9900; Open Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5p.m., Closed Sunday