Panini sandwiches enter the mainstream.

All-American Grill 

Panini sandwiches enter the mainstream.

Panini sandwiches have been called the "fast food" of Italy -- even though the actual Italian word for a filled sandwich would be imbottito, not panino. According to Dictionary of Italian Cuisine writers Maureen Fant and Howard Isaacs, a panini is "not a special kind of sandwich." As they witheringly note, "the term could not be more generic."

Generic or not, paninis are becoming as common in Kansas City as barbecue and doughnuts. A number of area supermarkets are now grilling panini sandwiches at their deli counters. The Avelluto family, which owns Il Trullo restaurant sells panini sandwiches, hero sandwiches, salads and appetizers in the Italian-style deli adjoining its popular Mission pizzeria, Italian Delight (6522 Martway).

A new Italian grocery store in Brookside also sells five kinds of grilled panini sandwiches. Bella Napoli Alimentari is the creation of Jake Imperiale; in Italy, alimentare translates as "to feed" (which Fant and Isaacs note "is also used in situations not related to food," as in feeding one's car with gasoline). Imperiale has turned the space formerly occupied by Bloomsday Books into an urban Italian grocery filled with imported pastas, sweets and fresh meats -- prosciutto, mortadella, capocollo and pancetta -- and cheeses. The shop opens each day at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. during the week, 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Another kind of sandwich shop -- though definitely not ethnic -- opened March 16 in the Westport space vacated by the LeeAnn Chin chain. Off the Grill is another chain, this one based in Tennessee; a second location opens this month at 8973 Metcalf in Overland Park.

At Off the Grill, customers can order a variety of grilled sandwiches, including a particularly juicy made-to-order cheeseburger or hefty ribeye sandwich as well as grilled entrée items -- salmon steaks, pork rib chops, an eight-ounce filet mignon or an eleven-ounce Kansas City strip.

It doesn't matter whether you're eating in the spartan dining room or taking the meal home; everything at Off the Grill comes boxed up for takeout. Although the tab for a grilled chicken, pork, salmon or steak dish includes a neatly packaged little salad, a baked potato and a roll, it's still a little disconcerting to eat a $14 Kansas City strip or a $12 pork chop off of a plastic plate with plastic utensils. (If you'd rather eat the food from your own china and flatware at home, Off the Grill delivers free within a "limited delivery area.")

And last, but certainly not least, after last month's Mouthing Off column describing the fare planned for the new Europa Café, I received an e-mail from reader Nancy Clark asking, "What the hell is 'that great culinary creation from Buffalo, New York, roast beef on weck'? Is 'weck' a typo?"

Weck no! Basically, the sandwich we call a French dip is known in upstate New York as "roast beef on weck" (and sometimes "on wick"). The phrase refers to the bread wrapped around the sliced roast beef -- a crusty, yeasty roll called a Kummelweck, which is brushed with pretzel salt and caraway seeds before going into the oven. In Buffalo, this sandwich is serious business, usually featuring grated horseradish. My Aunt Josephine, who lives outside of Buffalo, says any sandwich not made on a real Kummelweck roll is not "roast beef on weck" at all. But, she says, the horseradish is optional.

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