Joey's Italian Deli

Joey's Italian Deli could be just another Medford sandwich shop — if it didn't bake its own bread, roast its own meats and make its own condiments.

Crusty, chewy loaves that evoke both baguette and ciabatta are the calling card of this downtown eatery conveniently located near the Central Library and higher-education buildings. Brothers Joey and Gabriel Murphy had their eyes on the spot for a while before opening just over a month ago.

Whereas a short-lived pizzeria couldn't survive in close competition with the neighboring bagel shop and former Yellow Submarine, the Murphys bring ample restaurant experience to their new operation. They purchased Gogi's about three years ago and recast the Jacksonville dinner house's menu and decor to reflect Gabriel Murphy's training in Italian cuisine.

"Anything we can do, we will do from scratch," says Joey Murphy, 28.

Gabriel Murphy, 32, now starts his day at Joey's baking bread and making soups and salads before departing for Gogi's. Neither brother had planned to specialize in pizza, but the warm reception for pizzettas at Gogi's — and new pizza ovens left by the Medford restaurant's former occupants — persuaded the duo to give pies a try.

Ten pizzettas account for one-third of Joey's menu, which tips toward gourmet sandwiches boasting high-end ingredients, such as Gouda and Brie cheeses, olive tapenade, pesto, caramelized onions, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted bell peppers. Two soups and several salads are available daily.

For the quality, prices can't be beat. Whole sandwiches and pizzettas are $7; a half sandwich costs $4. The half, however, is the size of many restaurants' whole while two people could happily make a meal of Joey's whole sandwich, particularly with a cup of soup on the side, which costs $3 or $4 for a bowl.

I couldn't resist a cup of the Italian white bean with bacon soup on a recent rainy day although I ordered a whole sandwich of roasted turkey, tapenade and Brie (served hot). My co-worker ordered a pizzetta with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

Because the Murphys expected take-out orders to dominate their business, the restaurant has just four tables in the relatively sparse space. Orders are placed at the counter within view of the spotless kitchen and its stacks of crusty bread.

When Joey's says its sandwiches are served hot, this is no lukewarm promise. Likewise, my soup was within a few degrees of boiling when it arrived to the table in its cardboard container. All Joey's service items are disposable, with several feet of butcher paper wrapping its sandwiches and cardboard boxes for the pizzettas.

Struggling to arrange so much unwieldy paper on such a small table, I nevertheless found the sandwich inside delicious. My co-worker liked his pizzetta. The soup, however, had a pasty consistency that detracted from its smoky bacon flavor. I generally appreciate pureed soups, but this one would have benefitted from a little texture, certainly some chewy morsels of bacon.

I theorized that Joey's daily staple, the tomato soup, would more likely be fine-tuned. Wise to the sandwich sizes this time, I ordered half of a prosciutto, salami and provolone with tapenade and pesto. My friend chose the hot combination of roasted bell peppers, caramelized onion, artichoke hearts and Parmesan.

Instead of sporting a garnish of cheese, my soup had a pronounced Parmesan flavor throughout and a silkier texture this time. I enjoyed it to the last spoonful. Unfortunately, I couldn't manage the entire sandwich, the salty components of which overwhelmed my taste buds. Although I love all the ingredients on their own, if I ordered this sandwich again, I would probably request the tapenade on the side.

I'd also appreciate the option to drink tap water at Joey's. An array of bottled and canned beverages are for sale, but I can imagine for every student and downtown worker who thinks nothing of grabbing a soda or flavored water, there's another frugal and environmentally conscious one who prefers filling up a durable bottle.

— Sarah Lemon

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