Whenever a certain friend of mine comes to town, she makes a point of getting a muffuletta from Central Grocery a few hours before her flight home. She packs some of it to go and waits to savor it on the plane, insisting that the sandwich improves with time as the flavors blend and the ingredients get to know each other a little better.
I had a similar thought when confronted with a similar sandwich at Francesca, a deli-style casual restaurant that opened earlier this year in Lakeview. The sandwich in question is The Moon, a throwback to (and resurrection of) the Moon special served at Charlie’s Delicatessen, which shuttered following Hurricane Katrina.
Like a muffuletta, The Moon features a sesame seed loaf piled high with meats and cheese. It has ham, roast beef, melted provolone, a thick layer of bright purple cabbage slaw and creamy Russian dressing that pools on the tray below. I ate what I could and tucked the rest to go.
That sandwich and many other items on the menu are reminiscent of old-school comfort favorites found at delis and red sauce joints. Husband-and-wife team Scot and Stephanie Francesca Craig run the spot, and Scot also owns Katie’s Restaurant & Bar in Mid-City. Many of Francesca’s dishes are based on family recipes from Stephanie’s childhood in the St. Louis Italian neighborhood known as The Hill. A salad of the same name arrives topped with ribbons of salami and capicola, heaps of grated mozzarella, olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and olive salad on a heavily dressed mound of romaine and iceberg lettuces.
Portions approach ridiculousness, as is the case with the mozzarella sub, a delicious medley exploding out of an Italian roll. It has fat meatballs drenched in marinara under a blanket of melted mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Diners can expect to go home with leftovers.
Over the years, Scot Craig gradually transformed his Mid-City restaurant Katie’s from a traditional Creole-Italian joint to a modern neighborh…
The menu has a decent selection of pizzas as well as casual deli items. A vegetarian sandwich called the Lakeview was drier than expected, packed with plenty of avocado and sprouts but lacking any tang or creaminess to pull the parts together.
Francesca has a neighborhood feel and closes at 8 p.m. Though it’s similar in some ways to its Mid-City sister, the two restaurants are distinct. Katie’s has earned a reputation for a buzzing weekend brunch spot offering bottomless mimosas, but Francesca is a neighborhood weekday lunch hub.
On Mondays, regulars order gargantuan platters of red beans framed by fat sausage links and thick slices of bread. Large charred brisket burgers can be ordered with hickory-smoked barbecue sauce and bacon, and there are sides such as a mayonnaise-based potato salad.
As for The Moon sandwich, it’s available in whole or half portions, but if you’re wavering about ordering too much food, go the extra mile and take some home. It gets better.