All’Antico Vinaio was opened by the Mazzanti family in the city center of Florence, Italy, in 1989. It started as a wine bar with a small sandwich counter, but over time it occupied four storefronts in the vicinity and one in Milan, most with sandwiches as the main focus, becoming a tourist attraction unto itself almost as much as the nearby Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio. Lines trailed out the door in the narrow twisting streets, as customers stood outside to eat.
Now, All’Antico Vinaio (which translates to “ancient wine merchant”) has arrived here with a bang. NYC’s branch is located on Eighth Avenue and 46th Street just west of Times Square. There’s no place to eat but a small standing counter (though a dining room is apparently opening next door). Most of the interior is taken up with a glass case that displays cold cuts that are the stars of the show, as well as the creamy toppings and vegetables that add to the hit sandwiches. Among the cold cuts are luscious porchettas, aged cheeses, balls of fior di latte, and imported salamis, many of Tuscan origin.
Behind that glass case two guys put the sandwiches together like acrobats — slicing, smearing, aligning, and squeezing — as a line of customers stretches out the door, though the place has been open just two weeks. It made an earlier appearance in 2019 as a one-month summer pop-up at Otto, Joe Bastianich’s (and formerly Mario Batali’s) casual Italian restaurant in the Village. Bastianich and current operator Tommaso “Tommy” Mazzanti apparently became friends, because bottles of Bastianich wine are prominently displayed in the NYC branch, though no wine is currently available for sale, and a sandwich bearing his name is being sold in Florence.
While the typical Italian sandwich available here has been a torpedo-shaped panino with a meager slice or two of ham or cheese, pressed or not, this sandwich is quite different. Square and stuffed, it’s made on a Tuscan flatbread called a schiacciata (“smashed”), a very plain focaccia much like Sullivan Bakery’s pizza bianca. But while the schiacciata — the same word became the name for the sandwich — is familiar enough in various parts of Italy, All’ Antico Vinaio has transformed it into something more opulent, with a larger portion of meat, and all sorts of condiments and garnishes, making for a very gloppy sandwich.
Nine of these schiacciati are currently being offered, most identical to the ones back in Florence. Naturally, I was first attracted to L’Inferno ($12). The key ingredient is porchetta, a thick skin-on pork roast rolled in flavorful ingredients like garlic and fennel, which grows wild by the roadside all over Central Italy. These roasts are often sold by as a sandwich filling from trucks that park along random country lanes, so that as you pass a field of sunflowers or a hilltop town, you might spot one on the horizon and press your foot harder onto the gas pedal. Your sandwich is simply a thick slice of fatty porchetta on a roll with nothing else, such is the traditional simplicity of sandwiches in Italy.
I watched a far more complicated porchetta sandwich than the ones I’d eaten in Italy being assembled at All’Antico. First, a large square of flatbread was cut latitudinally, then thickly spread with the pureed salami called nduja. Next, grilled vegetables were placed atop the red puree, and thinly sliced porchetta was heaped on top pell mell. Next, baby arugula was piled on, and the finished sandwich held up by the twin sandwich makers as a sort of edible trophy. It was beautiful, and so big that once I’d taken it outside to eat on the sidewalk, I could only finish half.
In the coming days I tried several more of the sandwiches. Each version used pretty much the same formula — a marquee meat, some veggies, and condiments that were the strangest part of the recipe. No mayo, mustard, ketchup, or even olive oil are used here, but instead, there’s truffle cream, artichoke cream, pistachio cream, pecorino cream, and nduja. All’Antico Vinaio has seemingly invented its own oddball condiments.
The leading star of this Broadway show is la favolosa ($17), which features sbriciolana, a truly wonderful Tuscan salami, pungent and funky, along with pecorino cream and artichoke cream, plus spicy smooshed eggplant, which adds an oily and peppery punch. It begs the question: Can a sandwich be too messy? This one is, and you might find yourself extracting slices of the salami and savoring them separately. Other sandwiches feature prosciutto, pancetta, capocollo (a cooked ham of compressed neck meat, from southern Italy), and mortadella (from Bologna).
There’s also a mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich here called La Caprese ($9); back in Florence the same sandwich is called summer, and doubtlessly uses much riper tomatoes than the ones on display at our branch — so I skipped it. Otherwise, this new sandwich shop is worth a visit, not only to sample fine quality cold cuts, but to get a glimpse into a sandwich that has been invented in modern Florence, reminiscent of the Italian-American hero in its lavish use of ingredients.