Creole-Italian restaurant roots run deep in New Orleans, with this long-marinating fusion cuisine woven into the city's history and culture for more than a century. Delis specializing in Italian-American sandwiches (other than muffulettas) with cold cuts and cheeses aren't particularly prevalent, however, leaving a void for those who crave thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma on Italian bread. Cibo, a neighborhood spot dedicated to Italian sandwiches and entrees, is filling that void.
Tucked in the shade of the Riverbend's giant oak trees, Cibo is a diminutive spot that feels snug and welcoming. Counter service in the front makes to-go orders a breeze, and there is a handful of tables draped with red-and-white checkered tablecloths along the far wall. Outdoor seating in front of the restaurant provides a space for leisurely snacking on Caprese salad while reading the newspaper or people-watching.
While there are a few traditional red gravy-style entrees, such as mozzarella-covered chicken parmigiana presented with almost-sweet tomato sauce, sandwiches are where Cibo hits its stride.
Ingredients are mixed, crisscrossed and paired in different fashions throughout the sandwich offerings like a wardrobe of perfectly coordinated pieces. The roast pork sandwich is one of the best, with gooey, briny caciocavallo cheese fondue brushed on a sub roll that is stuffed with feathery slow-roasted pork and sauteed broccoli rabe. The chicken modena sandwich is enlivened by the melding of a bright, chirpy tomato with a melt of silky, earthy fontal cheese.
Meatballs make multiple appearances on the menu, notably as the anchor of the behemoth Brooklyn sandwich, which arrives dressed with a trifecta of ricotta cheeses. The meatballs also shine on their own in an entree. Meltingly tender and golf ball sized, the meatballs are refreshingly uncomplicated and subtly seasoned with basil and oregano.
Sandwiches are served with a choice of pasta salad: an archetypal tricolored rotini with floating half-moons of black olive swimming throughout, or whole wheat balsamic penne. Even if you're partial to the humble charms of classic pasta salad, the penne option is a more composed co-star for any sandwich on the menu, with flecks of piquant sun-dried tomato, fresh basil and sharp balsamic glaze. The side salad is an option, but it is soused in a far-too-vinegary house Italian dressing.
One disappointing option on the menu is the lackluster turkey fagioli sandwich, which is more reminiscent of a brown bag lunch than a deli creation. Carved turkey is moist but flavorless, and a dense, traffic cone-colored slice of cheddar cheese and spongy, unevenly toasted bread do little to improve the flavor. The sandwich’s highlight is a thin smear of sun-dried tomato white bean spread, which adds a dimension of creaminess and tangy zip as the white beans balance out many of sun-dried tomatoes' frequent textural challenges (chewiness, too much oil).
This white bean creation, along with several other spreads, is available for purchase from the deli, along with an array of classic Italian cold cuts (salami, mortadella, soppressata, capicola) and cheeses. Other notable items include garden-fresh basil pesto and spiced peach chutney.
Even after heavier indulgences like meatballs or chicken parmigiana, diners would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to add a sweet flourish to the end of their meal. Cannoli feature crackly shells hand-filled to order with rich, fluffy cream that beckons diners to come back for seconds — or a return visit the next morning for a sweet with a cup of espresso.NOTE: Due to an editing error, the sun-dried tomato white bean spread was misidentified in the print edition of Gambit. It has been corrected here.