I thought I was in the wrong area, looking for Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches, surrounded by Macy’s, J. C. Penney, The Gap, Sports Authority, and the like. A neighborhood joint was what I was expecting. Then, I saw it, a small building sitting on the corner of Ohio and N Riverside, across the street from the sprawling Rogue Valley Mall.
I’m guessing little has changed since 1969 when Luigi’s first opened. There are a paltry few places to sit down outside, still more room than the few stools lined up next to a small counter along the south side of the walk-in area, no more than eight-ft square. It’s best to order take-out or eat in your car, which you can park in an equally small, tight lot.
A dozen people were crammed inside, most of them waiting for their orders to be filled. The menu is thankfully perched above everyone’s head, easy to read. For me, it would be an obvious choice, the Garbage Grinder (labeled ‘World Famous’), the sandwich that brought Luigi’s fame. My wife spotted on the menu Luigi’s meatball sandwich, conjuring up visions of Pizza Napoli’s near LAX (now closed). All sandwiches can be ordered in three sizes: small (6″), regular (8″) or large (12″). We each ordered the small.
There are nine kinds of grinders, each with different fillings (including a vegetarian). All of them are served open-faced, exactly as they come out of the small, flat, stainless steel oven, like a pizza. And there the similarity to the pie doesn’t end because the bread is more pizza-like than, say, French roll, having a denser chew and developing a crackly exterior as it bakes. It is also thin, which places the emphasis as it should on the toppings. The ‘Garbage’ (image above) has salami, ham and pepperoni, two kinds of melted cheese (one of which is mozzarella) and their ‘secret’ sauce. After baking, the sandwich is topped with fresh vegetables: mild sliced onions, half moons of Roma tomatoes, green bell peppers, pickles, olive oil and something called EZ salt. Every sandwich is made-to-order, which can end up in a long wait when there are lots of customers, but the result is piping hot. Fold the sandwich over in half and eat. The Garbage Grinder (☆☆☆☆) is my third excellent dish I’ve enjoyed on this road trip.
The meatball sandwich came on a French roll. It too is baked, with a smear of house-made spaghetti sauce and minced onion and bell peppers and sliced mushrooms. My wife liked the sandwich (☆☆☆), especially its savory meatballs, though she prefers the southern Italian version which has a zestier sauce (marinara) and more of it, and no visible aromatic vegetables.
On the wall is a map of the U.S. where customers can place a push pin where they’re from. Started in February of this year, there were at least three pins from all 50 states, a remarkable statistic. It would be interesting if there was also a map of the world. Luigi’s claims to make 150-200 sandwiches per day. Is Luigi’s an excuse to stop in Medford when passing through again? It would be a great temptation, I’ll say that.
Luigi’s Italian Sandwiches
1819 N Riverside Ave