Part of the charm of walking into Hudson’s Street’s Sanpanino, besides the stand-out grilled panino sandwiches, is its neighborhood vibe. Seating is minimal, and on “meatball Wednesdays,” the line-up for San Marzano tomato sauce-covered meatball sandwiches can stretch out onto the street. It is in early September, though, when the real local action begins. That’s when school opens at P.S. 3 directly next door to the shop,at St. Luke’s School across the street, and at Village Community School around the corner on West 10th Street.
Starting around 7:45 a.m. hungry students and their parents begin filing in to buy a bagel, croissant, or a sandwich for lunch. (Invariably, the greatest rush comes during the few minutes before the bell rings to signal the start of class.) When school lets out for the day, another crowd of kids converges on Sanpanino. “Yeah, you get to know them,” says owner Leonardo Scarpone. The kids can be funny. “They’ll come in and ask for forty-five cents back. I’ll say, ‘I know that’s your change, but what did you order?’” They’ll ask to use the shop’s phone to call their mom, or they'll use Sanpanino as a rendezvous point with parents. On occasion, adds Scarpone, “a parent will call me up because they forgot to pack a lunch.” Scarpone doesn’t mind making a sandwich for the lunch-less child and delivering it to the school security guard. “We’re almost like the annex to P.S. 3,” he says.
One of the shop's strengths is its kid-friendly menu. Half-sandwiches at student prices are available, or soup and sandwich combinations and small bottles of juice. Another attraction, though, is Scarpone, 38, himself, who welcomes kids and knows a thing or two about them; he taught middle school social studies in West Brighton, Staten Island for three years before succumbing to the entrepreneurial itch. That part of his genetic make-up came from his Puglia-born parents. Scarpone’s father owned a salumeria on 20th Avenue in Brooklyn and his mother launched a bridal shop on Staten Island. Mom was also a great home cook. Scarpone grew up on her food, and on the products of two other Brooklyn salumerias where his father worked, A&S Pork Store and Bari Pork Store. “They made the best sandwiches,” he recalls. The concept for Sanpanino is rooted in those childhood memories.
When he founded Sanpanino, in 2000, says Scarpone, “there weren’t so many upscale sandwich shops in the city—there was a big void.” He developed a plan for a type of hybrid sandwich that combined Italian and Italian American traditions, but “leaned more toward the Italian.” That meant not “the packed sandwich of six mixed meats,” but one or two meats, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. He stuck the prefix “san” onto the Italian word for “sandwich,” “panino,” reasoning that it “sort of sounded like the patron saint of sandwiches.” Then he brought his dad, Antonio, in to teach him how to make mozzarella, which is still made on the premises.
The most popular of the 14 specialty focaccia sandwiches on the menu at Sanpanino are the prosciutto di Parma with fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil; the grilled eggplant, mozzarella, basil and olive tapenade; and the Sanclassico, which involves sopressata, mortadella, mozzarella, roasted peppers and basil, says Scarpone. He tries to stay high-quality and local when sourcing his ingredients. His prosciutto is imported from Italy, and his beef and poultry come from Ottomanelli & Sons meat market on Bleecker Street. The focaccia and almond cake come from Royal Crown bakery in Bensonhurst.
All of this fare is several giant cuts above a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, and Scarpone admits that his kid customers are living large compared to previous generations, or even present generations not lucky enough to live in New York City. “I don’t think I knew what olive tapenade was when I was eight,” he says.
494 Hudson St. (between Christopher and Grove Sts.)
New York, NY