Smile Politely

Baldarotta’s: Building killer sammies and cannoli in C-U

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage first appeared on the local dining scene as a pop-up in 2017, and it has enjoyed a warm welcome. Their brick-and-mortar establishment in Lincoln Square Mall took off shortly before the pandemic hit, but rather than hunker down or scale back, Baldarotta’s actually made plans to expand and take over the entire food court at the Lincoln Square Mall. The new Gelateria opens today, Friday, March 12th and will serve gelato and adult beverages.

I was able to email some questions to the two Baldarottas running the restaurant to find out how they’ve managed to thrive in a pandemic and, in general, what makes their eatery a good place to spend some bucks. Together, they sat down and answered my questions.

Inside Lincoln Square Mall, Baldarotta's is located in the food court with burgundy walls and open air ordering area. Photo by Kari Peacock.

Photo by Kari Peacock.

Smile Politely: Hello! Can you tell me your name and your role at Baldarotta’s?

Jordan Baldarotta: I’m Jordan, and I’m co-owner and executive chef.

Paris Baldarotta: I’m Paris, and I am co-owner and the marketing and business manager.

A tray of Italian beef sandwiches on french rolls showcases the cooking techniques and the finishing touches. The bread is toasted, and the meat--which is cooked in a tomato/veggie broth--shows caramelized edges. The sandwich is topped with melted mozzarella and pepperoncini. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: Your website describes your concept as “traditional, yet original.” Can you expand on that a bit?

Baldarotta: We take traditional concepts and make them original by putting our spin on them. Take our Italian beef for example: our Italian beef is seasoned with fresh herbs and braised with a variety of peppers and tomatoes. It is then cooled, sliced thinly, and added back to the stock it was braised in with all of the veggies.

This is far from your traditional Italian beef, but it does have similarities in the way that it is cooked, cooled, and sliced. In fact, in order to be successful in the restaurant industry, we feel that a restaurant should be original in order to stand out from the rest.

SP: Can you talk about what you think is the ideal meat to bread ratio?

Baldarotta: Most of our bread weighs out to about four or five ounces per serving. Our meat portions for our sandwiches weigh from four to six ounces. We feel that a 50/50 to a 40/60 ratio from bread to meat is a great place for a hearty sandwich that will fill you up — and will feel more like a meal than just a sandwich.

The Friday Special--the Meatball Smash--is shown split in half. A large meatball, sliced neatly in half, sits in each side of the ciabatta bun, couched in bright marinara sauce, melted mozzarella, and slightly wilted fresh basil. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: Which sandwich would you describe as the most traditional?

Baldarotta: Going back to traditional but original, we would say the meatball smash (Friday only special) is the most traditional, but we serve it in an original way. A traditional meatball sub is typically meatballs, marinara, cheese, and bread, usually a hoagie. Ours is basically the same, but, for easier eating and to stand out from the rest, our meatball sandwich is built on a ciabatta bun and smashed on the sandwich press. Hence, the meatball smash!

 view of two halves of Baldarotta’s Porketta sandwich shows layers of shredded pork, chunky salsa verde, and sliced banana peppers with a thick layer of provolone cheese running through the center of the other ingredients. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: Which one is the most original, and why?

Baldarotta: Our Porketta, easily. Let’s start with the spelling. It’s actually spelled Porchetta, but we first experienced this pork roast at an Italian grocer in Madison, Wisconsin where the Baldarottas would all go to stock up on sausages and Porketta roasts. That’s how they spelled it, and we just kept it going.

Our theory is that Italian immigrants changed the spelling from the “-ch” to the “-k” to make it easier for Americans to pronounce it correctly and to identify with it. It’s pronounced the same way. Next, most people make their porchetta with a pork belly and a pork tenderloin rolled up in the middle of it. We use a whole pork shoulder with our own special blend of herbs and seasonings. We like the fat to meat ratio better. 

SP: You have daily sandwich specials, which seems like a great way to get a little variety in the menu without driving yourself crazy. Have you found one daily special to be especially popular?

Baldarotta: It’s between the chicken Parm, meatball smash, and our pastrami and pepperoncini melt. We sell out of all three of these every single week. It doesn’t matter how much we have prepped, they always sell out.

Two halves of the new Wednesday special--the Roast Beef & Swiss--are shown, with a cup of jus in the forefront. The thinly sliced beef and melted Swiss cheese are neatly contained within a French roll. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: Are there any sandwiches you’re considering adding to the specials menu?

Baldarotta: We’ve recently added a new sandwich special for Wednesdays: the roast beef and Swiss. Our take on a classic roast beef sandwich has housemade roast beef, baby Swiss, roasted cremini mushrooms and onions, and a cranberry-horseradish sauce. It’s served on a toasted eight inch French roll with plenty of au jus on the side for dipping. It’s been a huge hit so far, and we only anticipate for it to get bigger.

A side view of Baldarotta’s pesto grilled cheese is shown. Melted Italian cheeses with pesto blended in ooze from two halves of toasted ciabatta. Tomato slices are layered inside. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: It’s nice that, while you’re a pretty meat-forward sandwich shop, you have your vegetarian items clearly marked. How has the feedback about those items been?

Baldarotta: At first, our vegetarian options didn’t do well at all. We even had a vegan sandwich at one point; it just couldn’t stand up to our other menu items, so we had to nix it. But now, our pesto grilled cheese and the Caprese are for sure winners, and our guests love them. Even our meat eaters will go outside their comfort zone and grab one for a lighter meal from time to time.

SP: Many sandwich shops opt to keep things simple by only providing chips as a side. What influenced your decision to offer fries?

Baldarotta: Fries go great with our hot sandwiches, and they make it more of a hearty meal.

A close up of Baldarotta’s Arugula Pesto Tortellini Salad fills the screen. The tortellini are evenly coated in the pesto, which features visible pieces of Arugula throughout. It is sprinkled with shredded parmesan cheese. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: Indeed, your assortment of sides and desserts are an impressive bunch. Which is your favorite?

Baldarotta: Our lemon Parmesan broccoli salad has been our number one for a long time now, but we just introduced an arugula pesto tortellini salad — and it has taken over as the number one spot on our sides menu and is now our new favorite.

As for dessert, cannoli is definitely our favorite. We make every part of them from scratch. From the shell to the filling, we make it all in house, and we build them to order, so they are super fresh and crispy.

SP: Talk a little bit about the changes you’ve made due to COVID. What have you had to do strictly to enhance safety?

Baldarotta: Being inside Lincoln Square, it has enabled us to space out our tables six feet apart and still have plenty of seating — and feel safe at the same time. We have also a designated to-go waiting area that is separate from the dine-in seating area. 

SP: Did you adopt any ease-of-ordering or delivery changes?

Baldarotta: We offer delivery to Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy. Guests can order online for in store pick up or delivery.

Six fresh cannoli sit on a tray. The ends are coated in chopped pistachios. The cannoli are finished with a drizzle of chocolate and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

Photo by Jordan Baldarotta.

SP: I saw your segment on CI Living a while back, and you mentioned that you’re going to take over the second counter in the food court to offer gelato, baked goods, soda, beer, and wine. Where are you in the process?

Baldarotta: During Restaurant Week 2021, we did a slow open by offering a variety of desserts out of the Gelateria. We are keeping that momentum and continuing to offer our cannoli, white chocolate pistachio cookie, and Genovesi every day now.

Yes, you can get made from scratch cannoli every day that we are open. We will slowly continue to add other items over the next few weeks. So follow us on Facebook to see what’s rolling out next.

SP: Hearing that you’re expanding and what you plan to offer made me picture a lively Italian cafe. Do you hope that people will embrace that vibe, or do you hope to remain more of a to-go establishment?

Baldarotta: Yes! A lively Italian cafe is exactly what we are going for. We never intended to be a to go restaurant; COVID created that for us. Our goal is to create an atmosphere where people want to come hang out and spend time with friends and family.

We plan on adding a kid’s menu to the sandwich side, and the Gelateria will offer gelato, baked goods, Italian sodas, beer, wine, and specialty cocktails made with gelato and sorbet. Along with the expansion, we plan on hosting live music and family style pasta meals on special occasions. 

SP: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Baldarotta: We would like to thank C-U for supporting us over this last year, and we look forward to getting to know more of our community in the future.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
Lincoln Square Food Court
300 S. Broadway Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801
Tu-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m
Su 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Top image by Kari Peacock.

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