Ask Chiara Troccia why she's only open four hours every weekday, and she'll say it's because her little sandwich shop is near office towers and light industry. It's a lunchtime business.
But don't be fooled by her 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule, because most days, she's in the restaurant by 7 a.m. and still there well after 5.
That's because everything at La Mia Focaccia is hand-made.
It starts with the focaccia, which Troccia first perfected at home. Her focaccia rounds are the basis for the long list of sandwiches and panini. Along with plain focaccia, she makes rosemary and garlic; tomato and oregano; tomato basil and garlic; onion; whole-wheat; artichoke and olive. Troccia had to have hand surgery because of the repetitive movements involved in making bread.
The thinly sliced eggplant you'll find in many sandwiches is hand-peeled, soaked, drained and then grilled slice by slice. It's then marinated in layers. Red peppers are roasted in-house. Tomatoes are dried here, and Troccia, 52, grows many of her own herbs. She learned much of what she knows from her mother, originally from Bari in the Apulia region of Italy.
You can taste Troccia's handiwork in grilled panini with grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, artichokes, sundried tomatoes and arugula ($7.95). Order the grilled-chicken sandwich ($9.95), and you get a chicken breast that is marinated in those home-grown herbs. It's grilled and sliced paper-thin before put between focaccia with smoked mozzarella, roasted peppers and spinach. Grilled sausage is the start in another panini ($9.45) with broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and provolone. Just incredible.
Fresh mozzarella and most of Troccia's Italian meats — prosciutto, mortadella, cappicolo — are imported from Italy.
She has several salads on her menu, from a simple Caprese ($8.95) with that imported mozzarella plus top-quality tomatoes on a bed of arugula with fresh basil. The chicken gourmet platter ($11.95) is a combination of grilled or breaded chicken with mixed greens, mozzarella, portobello mushrooms, grilled eggplant, roasted peppers and basil.
If you've ever been in a chain bakery sandwich shop and seen the soup warmer refilled with a plastic bag full of soup, you'll be delighted to know that Troccia makes her own pasta e fagioli ($4.49). She starts with soaking dried beans. The completed soup sits in a slow cooker behind the busy counter, where sandwiches are made. While most restaurants would mix the pasta into the soup, she only adds it when a bowl is sold. This way, the pasta stays al dente.
Leave room for one of her home-made lemon cookies ($1.75), little knots of light citrus-scented dough.
When Trocchia opened La Mia Focaccia 15 years ago this January, she'd never worked in a restaurant. She grew up in Montreal, where her parents owned a florist shop popular in the city's big Italian community. She'd also never operated a slicer before she decided to start selling sandwiches featuring sliced meat.
"I was concerned when I opened, because just going around searching for supplies and stuff, people would just shut their doors," Trocchia remembers. "Nobody knew what focaccia even was. It was a little scary. I just went with it because I felt it in my heart."
Working such short hours, she was able to raise her sons, now 26 and 24. Her youngest works with her at the restaurant.
Now, after years of being asked, she thinks she may finally take on the job of wholesaling her famous bread. Very soon, La Mia Focaccia could be everywhere.
6303 N. Powerline Road, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Small lot in front