Carlo liked to talk and so did we. We talked about our histories and about upstate New York and about food.
"What would you like today?" he asked.
My choice was easy. The menu listed an Italian sausage hoagie. "I started making these in upstate New York in 1969," Carlo said, "and they are still the best of all the rest. Sweet sausage with seasoned peppers and onions, topped with provolone cheese. I'll top it with sauce if you want! $5.25."
I turned to my niece. She is a vegetarian. She and Carlo discussed her options. He suggested hummus, a chickpea spread. "No," she said, "I'll have a salad." "With my special, homemade Italian vinaigrette dressing," he suggested. "No," she said "do you have ranch dressing?" "Of course," Carlo said.
"Something to drink," he asked. "Sweet tea," said she, while I said, "Unsweetened tea."
Carlo put the order in and we sat down at the seat in the window. There were about eight tables, each seating four people. "He's really friendly," said my niece. "And this place is very colorful." The walls were painted lime green and the door was red. The staff wore red aprons. Pictures of Italy decorated the walls. The tin roof of the building bespoke its age. The flooring was polished old wood and new tiles. A fan whirred over our heads.
The sausage hoagie was delicious. It came with a pickle and a side dish of red sauce, piquant and real. My niece ate her salad, enjoying the variety of lettuces, especially the escarole, a Sicilian favorite. She ate the cucumbers and offered me the crinkle-cut squash.
She walked to the back of the store and I followed. There on a side table was what Carlo called a fixin's bar. There was a garbanzo bean salad, a tapenade (a French olive relish), and a choice of peppers. When I had tasted these extra tidbits, I headed back to the fixin's bar. The garbanzo bean salad was the best I have ever tasted. The tapenade was most interesting, tasting smoky, hot, salty and oily all at once.
This time a woman stopped me. "Do you like the garbanzo bean salad?"
"I love it," I said, thinking she worked at the restaurant. "It is the best. How did he make it?"
She became rhapsodic. "The beans were freshly cooked and marinated in olive oil, parsley, garlic, peppers and onions."
"It is very generous to offer this," I said.
"Oh, Ed is very generous. He is the best cook. He has a real gift for food. If he gave me a recipe, I could make it and it would be OK. But if he made it, it would be delicious. He has a real gift. Of course, I am his wife and I am prejudiced."
"Is the place new?"
"We opened in November of 2007. Ed worked really hard to get the place in order. He wanted to call it an Italian Deli but I said, 'No, it is really a sandwich shop more than a deli.' So that's how it got its name."
Ed Carlo was chatting with a party of four at another table. He came back to help my niece and me chose dessert.
"Do you make it?" I asked. "No," he said," I don't do anything where I have to measure, like baking. I'm a cook."
I thought this was a pretty interesting distinction. Baking is far more of an alchemical, transformational skill. You have to have the right proportions of the right ingredients for cakes and cookies and pies to succeed. Cooking is more of an art. A little of this, a taste of that.
We ordered a chocolate brownie to split. Then I spied a piece of sausage tucked in the corner of the glass refrigerated case.
"What's that?" I asked
"The best salami in the world."
"Is it Hungarian?" I asked.
"Sicilian," Carlo said. "This is a Sicilian deli. Would you like a taste? Everything here is available for take out. Would you like some Sicilian salami?"
"Dessert first," I said. We sat to eat our dessert and licked the spoon clean.
When we left, my niece gave her opinion: "Classy and modern." To which I would add that the food is a dream and not too expensive. Our lunch cost us only $13.60.
Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelancer who reviews restaurants anonymously.
Ed's Sicilian Sandwich Shoppe
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambiance: 2 1/2 stars
Value: 3 1/2 stars
Address: 120 N. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va.
Hours: 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. Curb service available from 5:30 to 7 a.m. weekdays.
Style: Sicilian sandwiches
Range: Breakfast is from $3.75 for scrambled egg whites to $6.75 for smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, capers and onions. Lunch offerings include hot and cold sandwiches ranging from $3.75 to $6.50.