Could Western Australia’s continental roll really have evolved organically with no outside influence? We will probably never know.
But I love the idea that Italian immigrant culture morphed into the same kind of crusty, meaty magic, independently, on opposite sides of the globe. The Italian roll is not a thing you can get elsewhere in Australia, even though other cities have much larger Italian populations.
(This sandwich absence is an especially hard truth for me; I went to high school and university in New York, where I happily subsisted on heroes for a large chunk of my life. I now find myself living in hero-less Melbourne.)
At lunchtime, the line for sandwiches sometimes snakes through the Re Store, which also sells a plethora of Italian grocery items, candies and kitchenware. A cafe area takes up a significant portion of the space, with homemade cakes sold by the slice and an espresso machine that is always in use.
The customers who sit at the tables out front and at the long communal counter inside are a cross section of Perth itself: construction workers and businessmen and academics and retired older couples and stay-at-home parents. There are old men who have been coming here since they were young enough to receive the complimentary chocolate frog given to children upon exiting the store.
The Re Store’s 81-year history is quite incredible in a town where establishments dating from the 1990s are sometimes hailed as historic. The store is now owned and operated by Lorenzo and Fiona Berti. Mr. Berti is the grandson of Mr. Re, and he does the bulk of the cooking for the store, making pastas fresh daily, salads for the deli case and a huge assortment of dishes that you can have heated to eat on-site or take away.
But the most common lunch order here is the mixed meat roll — mortadella, coppa, salami — on crusty white bread. You can add whatever other toppings you’d like, much as at a decent New York deli. (The store sells around 400 sandwiches a day.)
Here, the most popular additions are pickled and oil-cured vegetables. Some would say that these toppings are part of what distinguishes these sandwiches. Pickled eggplant, good Italian olives, roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes are common (and advisable) extras. You can also add Australian or Italian prosciutto, or have a whole sandwich stuffed with whatever meat you’d like.
On the other end of the long deli case, which takes up the entire rear of the large store, customers line up for salads and pastas and other goodies.
Every day there is a lunchtime selection of house-made pastas and risotto, served warm from large vats and spooned into takeaway containers. The move here is to get a large container and ask for half-and-half, allowing you to try two kinds of pasta.