Olivella’s founder and owner, Charlie Green, calls it a spinoff: Olivella’s Pizza and Wine on Elm Street in Deep Ellum was having a tough time attracting the dinner crowd it enjoys at its other locations throughout the Metroplex. “What we discovered is...there’s late night, and there’s potential for lunch,” Green tells Eater Dallas. “And so we said, ‘You know what? Maybe lunch is a better fit. Let’s do the deli and get serious about it.’”
It’s a problem born of a real estate paradox. Many expect this stretch of Deep Ellum, on the Northeast side, to undergo significant changes as the Epic and other multiuse buildings nearby open, bringing more apartments, condos, restaurants, and bars — plus a brand new population of customers — with them. Green didn’t want to give up the location, but waiting it out some five years and doing what Olivella’s has always done wasn’t an option. “I’ve been in Victory Park,” he says with a sly smile. “So I know what waiting [for the neighborhood to change] is like.”
Referring to the sandwiches, Green says, “They’ve forever gotten overlooked because whenever people think of all Olivella’s Pizza and Wine, they come for the pizza and wine.” Instead, Green and his team decided to bring out the best-kept secret on the menu and put it in the spotlight: the panini. Taking inspiration from New York City’s classic Italian delis, and specifically Alidoro in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, they crafted a menu of eight different 8-inch subs, 11 paninis, appetizers (including the beloved Mama’s meatballs), seven pizzas, a few kinds of pasta, and salads and soups, plus a small wine and beer offering.
Service began this week, and vice president of operations for Olivella’s, Michael Lestingi, says a standout has been the Pappa Joe, a panini stuffed with soppressata, mozzarella, hot peppers, vodka sauce, arugula, and red onion, named after his dad. “Here’s the funny thing about it: When I sent it to my mom, I said, ‘Hey, here’s a sandwich that’s gonna be on the menu for dad,’” Lestingi says and continues with a laugh. “And she goes, ‘Well, he would never eat that.’” Apparently, the real Pappa Joe is in the minority because it’s been the bestselling item.
For customers searching for a good reason to come in, many of the sandwiches have been on the menu at various Olivella’s locations for a limited time — now many of them are back and only available at the Deep Ellum location. And the soups are also available only at this location. A particular standout is the Italian wedding soup with tiny meatballs. As temperatures drop in North Texas, what could be better than a hot panini loaded with peppers and a cup of soup?