For decades, savvy diners in St. Louis have known that the best hot salami sandwiches in the city are at Gioia's Deli, the 99-year-old grocery-turned-lunch spot in the Hill.
Now the whole world will know about it, too — the James Beard Foundation just awarded Gioia's the highest honor it gives to historic restaurants, naming it "an American Classic."The award honors "restaurants that have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community."
For a century, Gioia's has been a fixture of the Hill, the neighborhood that is the heart of St. Louis' Italian-American community. First it served the community as a grocery store, run by Marcallo, Italy, native Challie Gioia. Since Cathy Donley bought it in 1980, the building, built from brick and wood from the 1904 World's Fair, has functioned as a lunch restaurant. Through it all, the recipe for Gioia's signature hot salami hasn't changed. The salami is hot as in temperature, not as in spice. That said, the (mostly) secret blend of pork-head meat, beef and seasonings packs a peppery bite. It's a fresh, boiled sausage, with a texture like coarse pâté and a flavor that is porky, earthy, a little funky. Topped with the city's beloved cheese, Provel, it's a dish that has traveled from Italian to Italian-American to thoroughly St. Louisan.
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