An authentic Italian deli should not be out of the ordinary in North Beach, or even in San Francisco in general, with its local fervor for wood-oven fired pizzas and burratas. But it is. There are rare delights at the Italian Homemade Company that could make even the most settled San Francisco residents feel like tourists in Little Italy.
Inside, there are freshly made pastas — strozzapreti, gnocchi, pappardelle, ravioli — that may be topped with the sauce of your choice. Lasagna, soups, mozzarella salad and other items may be eaten there, or taken away for meals at home. They’re straightforward, made without any embellishment. But they don’t need it.
At the center of the menu is the piadine, a flatbread used in the deli’s signature sandwich, the cassone — a common streetfood from the region of Rimini, where deli owners Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli are from.
Cassoni are not well known in the U.S.; they’re made only at one other spot in Los Angeles, Cosmi told me. Numerous filling options include potatoes and spinach, tomato and sausage, or you can build your own and take advantage of the freshly baked and stuffed vegetables and salty Prosciutto di Parma — my personal favorite.
The deli’s rendition of piadini is slightly thicker than a saltine, but flexible and far denser, with a mildly sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with its liberal charring from the grill. The outside crackles.
I found the flatbread most delicious when, after sitting a bit, it absorbed flavors around it — like the sauce that comes with Italian Homemade’s dish of meatballs. Once thoroughly impregnated, it still doesn’t fall apart, and it becomes a childlike joy to eat so much sauce, with the flatbread’s chew still coming through. The meatballs are heavy on the meat, light on egg.
On one visit, Cosmi showed us each warm entrée with a gleeful grin. The kitchen makes its own sausage for the peperonata, a tomato soup spicy and tangy with peppers, comforting with potatoes and beans.
I chose the gnocchi roll — a freshly made concoction of gnocchi dough rolled over a creamy, nutty filling of spinach and ricotta, and sliced. It looks like if it stuck to my ribs I’d be extremely well padded – as if someone’s grandmother wanted to make me feel better. With a gesture, he drizzled it with a tangy red sauce and, before he packed it up, he held it out to my nose to smell. In my mouth, the gnocchi roll was a play of soft textures — the elastic, impossibly tender dough with uniformly smooth and creamy filling.
Which leads me to another topic. The gnocchi. They are perfect. The deli has a familiar, rustic, spare look that’s so fashionable nowadays, with antique boxes storing lemon sodas and Italian cola. Yet there’s also a natural feeling, with Italian pop playing from a stereo speaker, wooden floors repaired where they had buckled, and a high table where a handful of people might park to eat their lunch.
It’s nothing fancy, which keeps it from being hipper-than-thou. The deli is exactly what it looks like, and the food tastes exactly how it looks.
Italian Homemade Company
Location: 716 Columbus Ave., S.F.
Contact: (415) 712-8874, www.facebook.com/theitalianhomemadecompany
Recommended dishes: Gnocchi roll ($11), ravioli with ragu ($11), meatballs ($9), cassone ($10)
Price: $4 to $12
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays (closed Mondays)
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major