When you walk into Panino. (and that period is part of the name and giving my computer fits so that’s the last time I’m going to do it) you can’t help but turn your head to the left to the large meat case. I like to spend a few extra seconds gazing at the meat, and appreciating the butchering that has gone into making these parts.This is the raw material of the food Panino puts on the table.
Let’s not be squeamish. The butchering process is far, far removed from our carnivorous eating habits and Panino lays it all out. I know plenty of people who are grossed out by raw meat in general. The soothing plastic containers and plastic wrap at the grocery not only shield us from germs, they shield us from the entire process of bringing meat to the table. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket meat. Like all mass-produced food in the grocery, the price is right and it gets the job done.
If the American consumer is removed from the pieces of meat we throw on the grill, we are wildly unprepared to explain the other bits of meat we consume on a regular basis. The adage, “you don’t want to know how they make the sausage,” is a testament to the weird bits of meat that go into salamis, and pates, and confits, and what not. Snouts and lips in the hot dogs! We don’t want to know.*
Which brings me back to Panino’s meat case that is filled with real meat and meat products. Panino is a place that respects the animals that they cook and and they use the whole animal. That meat case, pieces of animals waiting to be used, the recently made salami’s, bacon, and other cuts, is a glimpse of what makes the food at Panino so good.
The meat is humanely raised animals from local farms that Panino’s butcher and prepare themselves. That’s pig, cow, turkey, and duck depending on the season. All of the produce, bread, cheese, and honey is local except for Parmigiano-Regianno. Fair enough on the Parm exemption. Let Italy take care of the Parm!
The menu has a lot to offer covering the meat situation very well, but also offering some decent vegetarian options. House made salumi-charcuterie (salumi is their spelling from the Italian for salted meat) features a rotating selection of their meat and local cheese, or they offer just a cheese board, based on availability. Based on the meat I’ve had in sandwiches, a charcuterie board and a glass of wine at the bar would be a great snack or happy hour option. The menu also includes a couple salads and soup. Honestly, I thought with all the bones lying around they’d have more soup on the menu. But they don’t. And I could be wrong about bones lying around.
The entire menu is based on availability. So though the Italian sandwich is always on the menu, the meat inside may be different. Mama’s Grassfed Beefball sandwich is always on the menu because when you name a dish after your Mama, you do try to have have it available at all times. But, I’ve been there when they aren’t serving it for whatever availability issue. Their Italian sandwich, by the way, is delicious. Compared to other Italian sandwiches, theirs feels a little skimpy on the meat, but the quality of the meat is better than any Italian sub I’ve ever had. I’ve also had the Cuban, and seriously, the ham on that thing is fantastic.
The menu separates sandwiches and paninis but for me they all the same type pressed sandwich. The panini selection rotates more often and the sandwich selection seems more stable. I think all of the sandwiches/paninis are served with their crispy and tasty house made chips.
For me the availability of items speaks to the quality of what is served. They aren’t running down to Kroger to supplement their beef supply, they simply take the item off the menu. To come back to my point about how far we are removed from our food, simply our expectation of what we want always being there for us shows how we are not in tune with the process of creating food, much less that it can be finite.
The Panino’s décor is that modern metal and wood that is so trendy in restaurant décor now. On the side with the meat case is where take out orders are placed, though there are a couple tables there. The other side is a more traditional dining room, with just a few tables and a long bar. The have a small locally-based beer selection, house cocktails, and wine. The vibe is laid back and the prices very reasonable for the high-quality of the meat.
Panino’s seems to be a little bit more entrenched in the farm to table food movement that predominates in food-forward cities around the country. While a lot of the food in OTR is delicious, only a few are as thoughtful about what they prepare and how. (Pleasantly and Salazar come to mind.) The careful sourcing of their products and the curating of the menu shows a broad attempt to use their food as a statement for better, more responsible eating.
*Every time I talk about meat, I think of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki – two great books