Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some chicken cutlets with balsamic vinegar, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella on a hard roll …
October brings the Major League Baseball playoffs, so if you’re in the mood to mix America’s pastime with lunchtime, slide into Home Plate Deli in Monroe. Longtime friends Bob Fusco (a Yankees fan) and Curt Dionis (a Mets fan) walked away from their jobs in 2000 — ironically the year the Yankees and Mets met in the World Series — in order to finally call their own shots. “Me and Curt decided, you know what, we’re gonna open up a little Italian deli, put a little baseball flair to it, because we’re both sports guys,” Fusco says.
Part of that flair is a tiled batter’s box and home plate design on the green floor in front of the counter. Most of the menu is that of a typical deli, but the sandwich specials — The Starting Lineup — are numbered 1-9 and named after the corresponding defensive positions for each player on a baseball field. For example, the No. 5 is called The Third Baseman ($9 roll, $11 grinder) and features salami, sopressata, prosciuttini ham, mortadella, provolone, roasted peppers and artichoke hearts.
The specialty of the house is The Home Run ($8-$10, the ingredients are listed in lieu of peanuts and Cracker Jack in the opening song). The cutlets are thin, tender and cooked just right and the tang of the vinegar and peppers goes beautifully with the giant hunk of fresh mozzarella. The cheese is at first a cool juxtaposition to the hot cutlets, but in the later innings it pulls a double switch and melts, providing a doubleheader of flavor experiences within a single sandwich.
Before answering their call to the big leagues, Fusco was a letter carrier and Dionis was a recruiter. At the time, some people balked at their decision. “I wouldn’t have quit if I didn’t think it was gonna work,” Fusco says. “My father’s grandfather started on Arthur Avenue [in the Bronx] — Fusco’s Bakery. Being around that stuff, and eating out all the time, I can walk in a place and tell you how good it is in a heartbeat, you know what I mean?”
When filling out their lineup card each day, there’s no debate about what’s at the top. “We knew that we’d put quality first all the time, every time,” Dionis says. “When you get consistent, that’s when you get your following. And that’s the most important thing.”
The logo for Home Plate Deli features a fork and knife crossed and laying on home plate. Dionis says that symbolizes their combination of home cooking with the baseball theme. I suggested the idea of adjusting their triangular roofline into the shape of home plate. “Yeah, tell that to the landlord,” Dionis says.
Arthur Avenue is still a role player, as the deli gets its bread from Terranova Bakery and cannoli filling from Artuso Pastry. But the two Trumbull High grads are all about the hometown fans as well. They sponsor Little League teams every year and provide food for Masuk High sports teams and the school’s post-graduation party.
“You see these people, and 90 percent of them are repeat customers, if not higher,” Dionis says. “So if you get to know the people — in a small town you better have repeat business otherwise you’re not gonna make it too long. We plan on running it as long as we can and we do the best we can every day.”
When asked if he’d agree to keep working at Home Plate until the Mets win the World Series, Dionis conceded he may need to make a call to the bullpen. “I don’t know about that. It could be 100 years.”