Locally focused and Italian-inspired Panino elevates simple panini to a higher level

This Vine Street eatery places a focus on in-house butchering and curing, offering a stand-out charcuterie tray with meats that melt in your mouth.

Mar 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm

click to enlarge While lunch is more to-go, Panino’s dinner menu expands to feature sandwiches, housemade salumi, salads, sweets and craft cocktails. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
While lunch is more to-go, Panino’s dinner menu expands to feature sandwiches, housemade salumi, salads, sweets and craft cocktails.
At the end of last year, Nino Loreto expanded his Italian-style charcuterie and meat-sandwich food truck Panino, which he established in 2013, into a full restaurant on Vine Street. Having more space to cure his meats is ideal for an operation that literally uses the entire animal — from snout to tail — and stores the meat in the basement at a controlled 55 degrees.

By day, Panino is more of a lunch spot in which hungry customers can order sandwiches to go, but at night the place lights up with a table service, a full menu, cocktails and beer. 

The front-of-house includes a cold case filled with local cheeses and meats, giving off a classic deli vibe. The adjacent 55-seat dining area features a long L-shaped bar that fits about 20 chairs, with a bar top featuring repurposed wood from Del-Fair Lanes in Delhi, adding some local flair. 

For dinner, my dining companion and I were presented with a two-sided menu: food on the front; drinks on the back. Our waitress told us the menu changes weekly, sometimes daily. That’s a testament to the hyper-localness of Panino. Loreto sources animals from Kentucky farms and grows vegetables down the street. Even the wine is exclusively sourced from Skeleton Root, less than a mile away. 

Panino sets its craft cocktail list apart by making triple sec and pear cider in-house. I tried the 90s Baby cocktail ($12): Casamigos tequila (George Clooney’s brand), Campari, melon, cucumber, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda. The refreshing fruit and veggies took center stage while bits of cucumber floated around the pinkish drink. 

Panino offers eight mostly local beers on draft and canned and bottled options, including one from Forbidden Root brewery in Chicago, which does a great job using flowers and other botanicals. Stella, Guinness and the InBev-owned Elysian Brewing disrupt the local beer ecosystem, so not everything is from around here. 

With a focus on in-house butchering and curing, meat is the specialty at Panino. Loreto’s grandfather was a butcher, and his mother, who works at the restaurant, is the mind behind the meatballs in Mama’s Grassfed Beefballs sandwich. If you’re a vegetarian, the restaurant has a couple of pesto paninis and a root vegetable wheatberry salad, which is a good deal for $5. If you’re a vegan, then you’re basically screwed and will spend the entire time staring at people stuffing their faces with meat and cheese. 

Personally, I think charcuterie has become too ubiquitous and I roll my eyes every time a restaurant offers a meat-and-cheese board, but Panino’s charcuterie tray is quite different. We ordered the daily tray for one to two people ($20; $40 for five to six people), which was exactly the correct amount of food. 

Joe Helms, Panino’s co-owner, delivered the tray to us and explained what we were about to eat: capicola soaked in Skeleton Root wine and salumi made from pigs who roam a 150-acre farm and dine on acorns. He said the acorns make their meat so soft that when he works with the carcasses, the flesh warms up and melts in his hand. Then, he and Loreto age the meat for three weeks. The high-in-fat meat does melt in your mouth. 

There was also pork and fig pâté and accompaniments like stone-ground mustard, housemade pickles, fig jam, an onion and beet condiment, bread and three types of local cheese. The smoked blue cheese came from Kenny’s Farmhouse in Kentucky, and the Brie was made by My Artisano Foods in Sharonville. The best cheese was a trillium, a triple cream from Tulip Tree Creamery in Indianapolis. It was like Brie, except sharper — and creamier. 

The only issue we had with the charcuterie was that the cheese stuck to the tray’s paper, which made it difficult to smear on the bread. Then again, I don’t know how you could keep soft cheeses from melting. 

We devoured the board — it was Dutch’s-level good — and waited on our sandwiches. I ordered the dried tomato pesto and local cheddar panini ($8), and my friend ordered the weekly sausage sandwich ($10), which was a Reuben made with goetta instead of corned beef. Each sandwich came with a heaping helping of kettle chips. And for $2 extra, we got caramelized onion dip. 

I thought my panini was OK. My friend, however, had a quandary about his sandwich. Reubens, a Jewish deli staple, are traditionally made with corned beef and German sauerkraut on rye bread, topped with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. He felt weird about German goetta taking center stage in the dish over the corned beef. To him, it was a lesser version of a classic, and served on an oval bun with cabbage instead of sauerkraut. Still, he ate the whole thing. 

We saved room for dessert, which is made in-house by Loreto’s sister. We had three options: a s’mores brownie, a squash tart and pizzelle cookies. We chose the latter. Two giant cookies dusted with powdered sugar came on a plate; they looked like snowflakes and they were a light ending to a filling meal. 

I think Panino works well as a place to stop in for a drink and charcuterie as well as for a sit-down dinner. I respect Loreto’s and Helms’ focus on local: You know you’re getting the best possible quality and flavors. I would, however, like to see more experimentation with the veggie sandwiches and some more veggie options in general, but that will probably come with the spring and summer seasons. I’m looking forward to what Panino continues to do with our prolific farming region. 


GO: 1313-1315 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; CALL: 513-381-0287; INTERNET: findpanino.comHOURS: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.