The allure of a specialty food shop is its depth of product: complex creations with novel tastes and nuanced flavors. It's also what makes gazing into a packed display case a bit daunting.
Fromagio's has made a name for itself over the last two years as a specialty cheese shop on the south side. It serves up cheese, party plates and treats for cheese aficionados craving bold tastes, plus advice for meal pairings. It's had a lunch menu for about a year and a half that gives it a chance to show off cheeses, cured meats and spreads.
The menu is broken into four sections: hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, salads and ploughman's lunches.
I popped into Fromagio's around 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday for a late lunch. I settled on the ploughman's lunch ($12), a meal with British roots, often consisting of bread, cheese and other small nibbles. The Fromagio's versions come with rustic bread, dried fruit, marcona almonds and a salad. I picked the option featuring salami, sharp cheddar and fig almond spread. A busy weekend wiped the store completely out of cheddar, but I was offered a substitution of something similar.
Manager Ian Brooks said dealing with artisanal cheese makes running out of items just part of the business.
"It's the nature of dealing with small batches of cheese. They don't produce of a lot of them and a lot of times distributors only have things for a limited amount of time," Brooks explained.
He also said the shop has seen an increase in demand since this summer and is adjusting to a stronger pace of business.
Lunches are made-to-order with items from the display case. The process involves unwrapping and assembly, so it's not Subway-speedy. My wait was well spent; I talked cheese with an employee and tasted several samples.
My plate featured around 10 slices of salami, a dozen or so thick julienned slices of Landaff cheese, a mound of Marcona almonds and dried cherries, several small slices of bread, a scoop of fig almond spread and a pile of greens with a side of balsamic dressing. The small, assorted ingredients made it feel like a sophisticated adult version of Lunchables.
The salami was salty with a peppery bite, the cheese rich and buttery, and the almonds and fruit provided a nice crunchy counterpoint to their softness. The slightly sweet and nutty fig jam was great -- I spread it on the bread for my favorite part of the meal. With the novelty of the other items, the salad was easy to overlook, but it was nice to have some vegetables to round out the plate.
I phoned in a to-go order a couple days later for lunch, asking for the crispy prosciutto and Mediterranean sandwiches (both $10).
The crispy prosciutto sandwich was wrapped in foil and stayed hot until I got it home. Built on bread from Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, it normally comes with Mezzo Secco cheese and rosemary pear spread. The shop was out of that spread, so I opted for the pickled fig instead. The spread had big fig chunks in it and lent a sweet and acidic bite to the tasty sandwich. The white cheese was rich, with a hint of spice and blended nicely with the mild and salty prosciutto.
The Mediterranean is a cold sandwich built on a dense roll that holds Finochiona salami, Sottocenere cheese, Morrocan mustard, greens and Roma tomato. The salami had big marbles of fat and a rich, pork taste. The cheese had a mild, peppery bite and the mustard brought it all together with a spicy curry flavor. The vegetables seemed like an afterthought portioned not to compete. There was only one slice of tomato on each half and a couple small leaves of greens. The menu said that sandwiches are accompanied by side salads, but mine were not.
Brooks said salads are included by request on to-go orders, but often not if not asked for.
The sandwiches offered at Anzilotti's Tuscan Market and Originale also feature imported speciality meats and cheeses, but I have to give the edge to Fromagio's because of the flavorful mustards and spreads they use.
Fromagio's has earned its clientele with its specialty ingredients and they make for out-of-the-ordinary sandwiches or meals, as long as you're flexible enough to deal with the possibility of a missing menu item.
By Spencer Shroyer
Daily News correspondent