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Bay Ridge’s Greatest Italian Hero Happens to Be Vegan

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Robert Sietsema grooves on a wondrous vegetable sandwich at Leo’s Casa Calamari

Broccoli rabe hero at Leo’s Casa Calamaria, bright green filling in a baguette.
Broccoli rabe hero at Leo’s Casa Calamari

It is my intention to celebrate the sandwich this year by finding as many tasty examples as possible, with a special emphasis on fringe styles, but also presenting sandwiches that were considered more normal 30 years ago that now seem quaint. I will do this weekly and periodically present round-ups of the ones I consider best.

Most sandwich fanciers will shake their heads and suggest there’s no such thing as a great vegan sandwich, which would generally rely on flavorless tofu or unconvincing meat substitutes for its main ingredients. Well, Sandwich of the Week is here to tell you this assertion is untrue. In fact, what may be Bay Ridge’s greatest Italian hero is strictly vegan — and fantastically cheap, too.

Open since 1995, Leo’s Casa Calamari on Bay Ridge’s quintessential corner of 86th Street and Third Avenue is a Sicilian focacceria that has expanded into a pizzeria and full-service restaurant. The dining room parallels the pizzeria, and provides a sunny place to sit with a glass of wine in the afternoon. The menu includes the namesake calamari, plus all sorts of pastas and seafood, including wonderful baked clams.

The interior is half restaurant, half pizzeria
The interior is half restaurant, half pizzeria

But the pièce de résistance, as far as I’m concerned, is the broccoli rabe hero. On the usual long Italian loaf is deposited a largish wad of the dark green vegetable, flowers quaking and nearly sodden with greenish olive oil. The mass is littered with thick shards of garlic, and salt has been well applied. Every bite is squishy and mellow and the bread not only adds wheaten flavor, but also holds the whole thing ably together despite the damp filling. This is a sandwich for the ages, and at $6.25 apiece, you can eat one every day. 8602 Third Ave., at 86th Street, Bay Ridge

It’s big!
It’s big!
Leo’s Casa Calamari, here since 1995
Leo’s Casa Calamari, here since 1995

Leo's Casa Calamari

8602 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209 (718) 921-1900 Visit Website

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