WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Take a Roman holiday with Stella Luna’s panini and gelato
DesBrisay Dines

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Take a Roman holiday with Stella Luna’s panini and gelato

Stella Luna knows the best Italian sandwiches don't drown your tastebuds with stacks of cured meats but seduce them with simple fresh flavours

Step inside Stella Luna in Old Ottawa South and you’ll have a hard time believing it has only been open for three months; it feels as if it has always been here. Even more remarkable is how quickly it has become the neighbourhood social hub and hangout — in much the same way that gelato shops serve this purpose in Italy.

This was precisely the intention of owner Tammy Giuliani (who trained at the prestigious Gelato University in Bologna, Italy). She runs the business with her husband Allessandro, who hails from Rome, home to some of the world’s most beloved gelato shops. Together they have created a warm and inviting space, designed for lingering, daydreaming, and lolling about. Its feel-good vibe is no doubt fueled by a perpetual sugar buzz.

Last week, when I popped by during the lunch hour it was filled with folks of all ages — groups of students chatting and giggling, lunching ladies, and assorted others reading the paper, sipping tea, and studying the day’s fresh gelato flavours. And oh, what magnificent gelato it is…

But there’s no dessert until you eat your lunch, right?

Gather up the willpower to pass by the colourful gelato case and turn your attention to the display of handsome sandwiches served on the now-notorious Art-is-in Bakery panini buns (the best in town) — crusty-chewy and golden, kissed with olive oil. For the fillings, the day’s options included tuna salad, bocconcini and tomato, or roast beef but I opted for the more unusual frittata sandwich. In North America we tend to think of frittata as a thick eggy mixture, something similar to a crusty quiche or an omelette served for brunch. In Italy it is typical sandwich fare, cooked slowly in a very thin even layer, sliced up and tucked inside a bun.

This frittata may not look like much to the eye, but when you bite into it, something happens. The flecks of vegetables — roasted eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, and potatoes — somehow pop with vibrant fresh individual flavours before blending together in harmony. A nutty-sweet undercurrent of parmesean cheese rounds out the taste sensation while a slice of soft melted mozzarella adheres the egg to the bun. “This is what Roman food is all about,” explains Tammy. “Simple, simple, simple.”

The green salad, served on the side, was another example of this. I could barely detect an acid — vinegar or lemon — in the dressing. The crisp romaine lettuce, pitted olives, sweet peppers, tomato, soft chunks of potato, and bocconcini had been tossed with little more than a nice olive oil and properly seasoned with salt. Was there even pepper? I don’t think so. So why was it so delicious? I asked the chef, a young man who came to Ottawa from Rome a month ago thanks to Tammy’s father-in-law. He speaks broken English for now, but he understood my question. He just gave a knowing smile as if to say “Ah, this is my little secret.” Tammy laughed: “Roman cooks are not modest! They know they are the best.”

Cost: Panini $5.95 / Panini with side salad $8.95

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Stella Luna Gelato Café, 1103 Bank St. 613-523-1116.