Eating at Regina’s Grocery: How Italian Sandwiches Should Be

By on Monday, April 15th, 2024 at 7:23 pm

Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan serves up deli sandwiches

Our toddler had just nodded off in his stroller as we came off the Williamsburg Bridge. This weekend as maybe the first true spring afternoon and we were looking to take advantage of it. We wanted to check out that new playground at Pier 26, which tells you how exciting our social life is these days.

I suggested we wander past Scarr’s pizza which everyone has been raving about and I still haven’t tried yet. I was expecting a line. It’s the kind of place I’m more likely to eat at during the week, but just never got around to it. Sometimes though these viral restaurants end up fading from memory pretty quickly. Not this one. Sure enough, there was a line. We kept walking, and we’re glad we did.

A half dozen storefronts later we came upon Regina’s Grocery. The place wasn’t very big, but there were empty tables and the kiddo was asleep in his stroller – a rarer and rarer occurrence these days, so we decided to give it a try.

Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan serves up deli sandwiches

Regina’s Grocery has a few outdoor tables

Regina’s looks like it’s been around since the 1960s. That look is intentional, but it’s relatively new. The dated sign and colorful paper-plate ads in the window are kitsch, a twee theme park like decor that New York was sort of moving away from even before the pandemic.

The interior is about as old school as it gets with family photos on the wall and a vibe that continues to balance authentic Italian American with aughts hipster nostalgia. There are actually grocery items filling the shelves. Everything is very Italian American with Ronzoni and de cecco pasta, breadcrumbs by the drum, but also styled beautifully to look like it’s straight from a vintage deli.

Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan does have actual groceries and Italian American Specialties

There are groceries on the shelves. It wasn’t clear if these were actually for sale

It’s hard to tell if the grocery selection is actually for sale or just props. The jars of lemon-flavored Galeffi Effervescent, a fizzy Italian drink intended to aid digestion, did appear to have a price. There was also canned tomatoes, imported Italian cookies, Amarena Fabbri candied fruit, and cans of Cuoco canned seasoning, used for making pasta con le sarde, a Sicilian dish. It’s especially popular in New Orleans during the feast of San Giuseppe. It was all very twee, but also exactly the kind of things Italian American shops all over the city genuinely sell.

Cuoco Seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines

A key ingredient to pasta con le sarde

Either way we were here for sandwiches.

The place is popular enough to have turned into a mini chain. The Orchard Street shop where we were eating first opened in 2017. Since then, shops have opened on Mulberry Street, in Bed-Stuy, and on the Upper East side.

Owner Roman Grandinetti named the shop for his mother, Regina, who according to New York Street Food, grew up in Bed-Stuy. Grandinetti grew up in Bensonhurst, but chose the Lower East Side because it was “one of the real neighborhoods in NYC”.

Oddly enough, despite the quality of the food, Grandinetti didn’t start out in restaurants. Instead, it was in marketing, particularly in the music industry, according to Sofia Ziman at Flaunt. He launched a magazine, CNNCTD, which eventually turned into a trend-setting, hip-to-the-kids marketing agency with a long list of big brands.

You might think with a pedigree in the marketing businesses and a shop that looks like it’s right out of a Wes Anderson film that the food wouldn’t actually be the focus. But that’s happily not the case. The food was the star.

Cross section of the Uncle Jimmy from Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan

The Uncle Jimmy has meat and cheese and arugula

My wife ordered a hot sandwich, the eggplant parm special. I went with the classic Italian hero, an Uncle Jimmy made with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. Both included hot pepper spread, a crafty branding name for a peppery condiment. I also ordered an A’Siciliana Blood Orange soda, which was just the right balance of bitter and sweet – much better than the San Pellegrino blood orange soda.

The sandwiches arrived neatly wrapped in paper, and even though we were sitting, in a brown paper bag. I pulled out mine and unrolled the white paper. The bread was crispy and had a light dusting of flour. I knew this was going to be good.

I cracked it open to reveal that lovely cross section. Just look at that thick, fresh mozzarella. There was plenty of prosciutto too. The hot pepper spread wasn’t all that hot on this sandwich, perhaps balanced by the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar.

The hot eggplant parm was wrapped up in foil. This was only available as a special, and the specials rotate. The Uncle Jimmy, for instance, happened to be available with chicken cutlet as well, available on the weekends.

The hot eggplant parm from Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan

The Eggplant sandwich was hot and spicy

The eggplant parm was spectacular. The interior was soft from the red sauce, but the exterior still crispy. The hot pepper spread was more evident here and added a bite to the sandwich. (The hot spicy is also what I like about Best Pizza’s eggplant parm sandwich).

We half expected the sandwiches would prove too much for us to finish, but they were simply too good to leave anything behind. My wife and I ended up sharing halves, so we both got to sample the deliciousness.

Cross section of the eggplany sandwich at Regina's Grocery on Orchard Street in Manhattan

I’m always a little hesitant about overhyped restaurants. People love trends, and places that care about looking good on TikTok and Instagram don’t always deliver – but Regina’s definitely did. It was a pleasant place for lunch, and I’d be happy to return. A few minutes after leaving, our toddler woke up from his nap. Good timing.


* indicates required