Hunter’s Casual Crusades: Gianni’s Italian Specialty Foods (Atlantic Highlands, NJ)

Autumn air is whipping around the corner with the appalling promise of pumpkin spice everything riding shotgun. On this occasion, it is time to take a look in the rear view mirror at one last warm weather cherished choice: the sandwich and chips combo. While the submarine piled high with your desired deli meat and routine toppings can thankfully be enjoyed year-round, one may argue that there is no season more appropriate than summer. For myself, these times are spent taking a bike ride to the park to pig out at a picnic table under the sun or perhaps at a seaside bench with a calm breeze coming off the water. Repeat readers know Greg and I both bow down to First Avenue’s Mike’s Dairy and Deli. However, a new name was recently thrown into the mix by a hungry friend. Just down the street from Mike’s is a place called Gianni’s.

I was told tales of a delicious, high quality hard roll which was enough to reel me in. Too many eateries serve a soft, generic, boring type of bread. To be completely honest, I’ve seen many owners come and go in this location and was not originally going in with high expectations. Walking through the door alone put those doubts to rest. Beautiful Italian music hits you along with the ambiance of this family-owned shop. Your eyes gaze down the illuminated glass cases that stretch the length of the store. They are filled with eye-widening portions of the most decadent Italian classics that bring a neutral balance of quantity and quality. When I turned around, I was delighted to see Gianni’s wasn’t a one trick pony.

A tiled pizza counter made up a second half of the space, with mouth-watering specialty pizzas covering the surface. The warm decor along with what appeared to be a husband and wife combo behind the counter was the cherry on top, making it clear that this was something special. After putting in an order for my turkey sub, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much care and love resides in these walls. Wouldn’t you know it, right behind the counter was a decal that read, “Family… where life begins, and love never ends…”

The two sandwiches for my friend and I hit the table on reusable plates as opposed to the standard paper ones, a unique quality to have. This picture perfect creation consisted of the high quality fresh roll I was told so much about with a perfect amount of plain mayo and shredded lettuce in between. Everything was done perfectly. It all came together quite nicely as you can tell by the layers that it was constructed with care. I could only finish half, taking the other piece home. If I could have finished it all, I would have. It was very satisfying to say the least. A summer of dieting has restrained me from coming back for the specialty slices, although I do look forward to visiting again soon. The wonderful environment and clear loving family vibes along with the quality food selections have earned Gianni’s a cool 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Hunter Dillon is a guest blogger on Eating New Jersey. As a hockey player, he is always on the go, which has served as the inspiration for his “Casual Crusades” column. He has more than four years of restaurant kitchen experience and can cook up the best cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia.

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