I went to La Gioia to pick up subs and came home with a grocery bag filled with meals for several days. Here’s what happened.
La Gioia Italian Deli, on Van Vranken Avenue in the Goose Hill neighborhood of Schenectady, is a gem. Woman-owned by Anna DiCocco and Modesto DiCarlo, and opened in 1989, it has everything you’d want in an Italian deli. There are olives, fresh cheeses, Boar’s Head provisions, homemade Italian food, imported Italian products and bread from local bakeries.
The deli makes homemade pasta, meatballs and daily specials. La Gioia sells frozen ravioli and prepared meals made in the store.
The Tuesday daily special is one of each: one half sausage and peppers, one half meatball sub for the price of a large sub — “the best of both worlds,” I was told. On Fridays, you can get fried fish and homemade broccoli pizza.
La Gioia sells Perecca’s bread, and gets one of their large pizzas to sell by the slice daily. All of it was gone by the time I stopped by early in the afternoon, as was the daily special.
The deli fits right in between the houses and small businesses along Van Vranken Avenue; with its brick facade and cheerful hanging sign, it’s just the right scale. Neighboring businesses are Memphis King barbecue restaurant, Stoney’s Irish Grill, the Appian Way and Lucky Wok, affirming that one of Schenectady’s great strengths is the variety and authenticity of its restaurants.
As you enter the store, head left toward the pasta to mind the proper flow of traffic as directed by a handwritten sign. You’ll see a good selection of imported pasta and groceries here; keep going until you get to the glass-fronted freezer cases. Here is where I stopped, invited by a handwritten sign on the glass door to take a look inside. You don’t have to ask me twice.
La Gioia translates to “joy,” and oh was I happy to discover those fancy, restaurant-style imported-from-Italy frozen desserts. I picked out one tiramisu and a limoncello ($4.29 each) in a decorative glass, ready to thaw and serve. In the next freezer case I found pasta dishes for two (or one very hungry person), store-made and ready to cook. Remembering the pasta dishes I’ve purchased from the supermarket, I added a container of eggplant parm and one of lasagna to my order. I love my supermarket, but it is no Italian deli.
The pasta meals are sold by the pound. The eggplant, at $6.99 a pound, came to $9.93 for the container. At $7.99 a pound, the lasagna with meat was $14.30. I also bought a package of a dozen large, store-made meatballs for $14.81.
There are trays of handsome cookies in the glass case at the counter by the register, including those authentic jam-filled Italian butter cookies that I cannot resist. These come from New York City. I don’t know if it is the jam filling (these have two kinds, apricot and raspberry) or the chocolate coating dipped in colorful sprinkles that makes them so good, but I love them. These were very fresh. I took home about a half-pound ($4.79).
Husband Eric came out of his man cave to inspect what I’d brought home and decided he’d try his small Italian sub ($4.45) then and there. “I’ll just eat half,” he said.
“The roll is good, nice and crusty,” he said, inspecting the Prinzo’s product. “I don’t even know what I have here,” he added, eyeing the stack of meats. La Gioia uses provolone, salami and capicola in their Italian subs. He noted that the roll was a little soggy in one place from Italian dressing, but admitted it was because “we live 40 minutes away.”
He didn’t care for the onions, making noises about eating them for the good of the reader. He took them off and finished the rest of his sub.
I transferred the eggplant parm into a metal baking pan and covered it with foil, according to the instructions given at the deli. It could be microwaved as is, but they weren’t recommending it. Besides, the oven warmed the kitchen and the eggplant filled it with good smells.
After about 45 minutes I removed the foil and browned the cheese, perhaps a bit too much. I didn’t follow the directions exactly and I didn’t have the right size pan. The generous amount of mozzarella cheese baked in the marinara in the most pleasant way, taking up flavor from the sauce. The breading got a bit mushy, but La Gioia gets points for slicing the eggplant very thin and peeling the tough skin. It tasted very good. I especially liked their marinara sauce.
La Gioia makes its own marinara sauce daily. It’s not on display, but you can buy it for $4.99 a quart. They also make the pasta sheets that go in the lasagna, and the cavatelli and spaghetti and fettuccine packaged for sale in the freezer case.
I stowed the lasagna and meatballs in my freezer and let the desserts thaw for the next day. They looked cheerful in my refrigerator, all ready to serve.
La Gioia subs are admired by a segment of Daily Gazette staff, and not just because of the newspaper’s proximity to the deli. I’m glad for the tip — not just for tasty subs, but for handy dinners.
I will stop by again when I want something easy that tastes like real, delicious Italian food.
LaGioia Italian Deli
WHERE: 2003 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady; (518)372-2949; lagioiaitaliandeli.com
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday
HOW MUCH: $19.17 for the sub, eggplant and cookies, plus a few bucks in the tip jar
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Parking on street. Wheelchair accessible. No seating available, takeout only.