Gioia's Deli In St. Louis Is Famous For Its Hot Salami

Stroll the streets of The Hill in St. Louis, Missouri, and you'll find several dozen restaurants and markets touting traditional Italian fare attracting epicureans from near and far. Founded by Italian immigrants in the early 1800s, the Little Italy status eventually stuck thanks to neighbors like Challie Gioia. He founded his Italian Market on The Hill in 1918, where current co-owner Alex Donley told the James Beard Foundation they've continued Challie's legacy in that exact same space. On any given day, you'll find diehards lined out the door of Gioia's Deli for good reason — the hot salami sandwich.

Donely told Tasting Table in an interview that only a handful of people have made the hot salami, including himself, who is the only one currently sourcing and blending the secret ingredients kept under lock and key within an old safe sitting amongst the throngs of customers. Donley has made the sandwich since he was eight years old and says, "When I was a kid I received a very serious talking to from my mom, Cathy Donley, owner for 40 years, for giving away a little too many secrets to a customer who was asking about the hot salami." But, if you think, "What's the big deal? It's just a sandwich?" it just takes one bite to understand there's more to this story.

The hot secret

Processed fresh from beef and pork, Donley told Tasting Table they never freeze the salame de testa and never let it cool. Sliced thick and topped with provolone cheese on freshly baked Italian bread, the hot salami sandwich comes complete with your choice of toppings. "All of these one-hundred-plus-year-old practices that have been perfected over time has created a product that is synonymous with St. Louis," he said.

From Food Network to James Beard Foundation, the sandwich has garnered notoriety. "We had no idea it was coming out," Donley told KSDK News of Food Network's Best Sandwiches in America recognition among the likes of Bouchon Bakery and Katz's Deli. Still, he told Tasting Table, "Winning a James Beard and all the other amazing national and local awards does not change the fact that our sole purpose is to serve our customers as fast and friendly as possible so they can get back to work in a timely manner." He says this is the soul of Gioia's, who sees about 900 people daily, even though the deli only has 10 seats.

Serving about 3000 pounds of salami weekly across seven menu items, by far none other compares to the hot salami sandwich, according to Donley. When it comes to the recognition, he told Tasting Table, "My goal with Gioia's is for it to thrive another 100 years so my children can be stopped in the grocery store to be complimented for their great sandwiches."