How far should you drive for a good sandwich? In my case, the answer is 34 miles, the distance from my home to V & S Italian Deli in Boca Raton. People who appreciate sandwich artistry of the old-school Italian variety owe it to themselves to make the pilgrimage to this small sub shop in a strip shopping center on North Federal Highway. When I got in line for my first-ever visit on a recent afternoon, the queue stretched out the door and crawled at a snail’s pace. Was it really worth the wait? “Yeah, it’s good,” a woman next to me said. “You gotta be patient.”
V & S stands for Vinny and Sal Falcone, brothers from the New York borough of Queens who opened the deli in 1985. Vinny, 64, is older by seven years, so his name goes first. The eatery has been in the same location all 32 years, and newcomers keep joining loyal regulars. Once inside, I was instantly transported to the neighborhood Italian sandwich shops of my Brooklyn youth, places such as Sonny’s Heros in Canarsie and Jimmy’s Famous Heros in Sheepshead Bay, cramped stores where customers cradled cold subs wrapped in white paper and hot subs wrapped in foil and headed off to offices, construction sites, the beach, ballgames and the racetrack.
At V & S Italian Deli, patrons likewise are from all walks of life, a mix of Boca residents, office workers and college students from nearby Florida Atlantic University. Many customers are greeted by name and with fist bumps. Regulars and newcomers are treated equally well. All can eat very well, with quality meats and cheeses carefully assembled on crusty loaves of fresh-baked Italian bread delivered daily from Coral Springs. The meatballs, sausage and mozzarella are housemade. The cannoli shells are filled with sweet-cream ricotta when ordered. Sides, salads and pasta dishes are mostly very good.
V & S Deli is 15 feet wide and a snug 796 square feet. There are six stools along one wall and three high-top tables for two outside. Most patrons take their food to go. A rack filled with Zapp’s potato chips is near the entrance. Trays filled with loaves of plain and sesame-seeded Italian bread sit in a rack near the register with a sign that reads, “Don’t touch!” The checkerboard floor tiles are red and white, and the walls are red, green and white, the colors of the Italian flag. The walls are lined with autographed photos of Italian actors, including those who have appeared in “The Sopranos,” and an autographed poster of the bygone New York Jets “Sack Exchange” that included Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau.
There are many good Italian-style sandwiches to be found in South Florida, including at Doris Italian Market and La Spada’s Hoagies (multiple locations), and Gran Forno and La Mia Focaccia in Fort Lauderdale. Something about V & S Deli feels more personal and soulful. When I left, I couldn’t believe I had never been in nearly three decades of living in South Florida. And I couldn’t believe the eatery has never been formally reviewed by this publication.
“We’re doing something right,” Vinny Falcone says during a follow-up phone interview. “We got a good crew, 13 overall. Most have been with us over 20 years.”
Vinny and Sal still work the lunch line and put in long hours every day, cranking out hundreds of sandwiches with five other counter workers and preparing stuffed shells, lasagna and eggplant rollatini, offered in a display case.
“We’re always here,” Vinny says. “People come in looking for us, they want to talk to us. … That work ethic is something my father taught us, and that’s the way I taught my kids.” The high level of care and commitment shows in nearly every item.
Many cold cuts and cheeses are from Boar’s Head, Italian specialty meats are from Citterio of Pennsylvania. There is also imported prosciutto from Parma. All meats are sliced very thin, which makes even the fattiest and chewiest cuts melt in mouths. The balance of meat, cheese, veggies and bread are harmonious, not monstrous. The subs are big but not too big and eat remarkably neatly. Instead of spilling everywhere, all the good stuff ended up in my belly.
Among the standouts: imported prosciutto with fresh mozzarella ($13.95 large); the V & S special with soppressata, mortadella and provolone ($10.95 large); the Italian combo with Genoa salami, spicy cappicola and provolone ($10.95 large); all-beef meatball Parmesan ($10.95 large); shredded roast beef au jus with Asiago ($13.95); and chicken fontina ($12.95), a wonderful concoction featuring thin, breaded chicken cutlets topped with melted fontina cheese, roasted peppers, arugula, basil and aioli. The arugula gives bitterness, offset by the sweetness of the peppers and the crunch of the cutlet and sesame-studded Italian bread.
Chicken Parmesan ($11.95) was good, but I didn’t love the way the chicken cutlets were diced into smaller strips instead of served whole. The chopped style worked perfectly for the meatballs.
Sandwiches come in large (10 inch) and small (6 inch) sizes, and can be cut in halves, thirds or quarters. Finely shredded lettuce, tomato and onion are included, and optional supplements include hot peppers, sweet peppers or banana peppers (25 cents each), fresh or smoked mozzarella ($1 small, $2 large) and arugula ($1). For those who do not like chewy and crusty Italian bread, other options include softer hoagie rolls from Cusano’s bakery of Coconut Creek (white or wheat) and sliced rye, wheat and multigrain bread.
The nice part of the hefty Italian bread for hot subs is the way it absorbs heat and liquid. The bread remained intact, and the subs were good to eat even after a long car ride home. One downer: The extra au jus, mayonnaise and banana peppers that I requested in side containers were forgotten and didn’t make it into the carryout box.
Fortunately, the delicious cannolis ($4 each) were not forgotten. Neither were winning side dishes such as hot cherry peppers in olive oil stuffed with breadcrumbs and provolone ($10.99 a pound), stuffed shells with creamy ricotta ($2.50 each), Sicilian cracked olive salad with vinegar and celery ($10.99 a pound), pungent broccoli rabe with olive oil and bits of roasted garlic ($10.99 pound) and excellent tuna salad made with canned imported tongol tuna, red onions and a small amount of mayonnaise ($10.99 a pound).
Then, there was the softball-size rice ball ($5.99), a glorious fried orb of herbed, fine breadcrumbs stuffed with buttered rice, ground beef, peas, fresh mozzarella and a tinge of tomato sauce. “It’s a meal all by itself,” Vinny Falcone says. V & S Italian Deli, a real deal worth a drive and the wait, is not for the faint of appetite.
V & S Italian Deli
2621 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
561-395-5206 or VAndSdeli.com
Cuisine: Italian sub shop with hot and cold sandwiches, salads and pastas
Cost: Inexpensive. Sandwiches cost $8.95 to $13.95, salads, sides and pastas $4.99 to $10.99 per pound, desserts $4
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Reservations: No. Call ahead for quicker pickup. Free local delivery 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: No alcohol
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot