& Crazy Good
The name “Sweet Lou’s Deli” evokes images of kindly old ladies named Louisa or Lou Ellen cooking up amazing home cooking for loyal fans. That would be partly right. The food is amazing. But Sweet Lou is not your mama.
Local chef Lou Maggiore, owner of the eponymous deli in downtown Schuylerville has made his name in the region as an executive chef for the last 30 years. Lovers of great Italian food will remember the amazing entrees offered at his Malta restaurant, Maggiore’s White Hart Inn. He has also left his mark on the cuisine as executive chef at popular eateries like Olde Bryan Inn, Longfellows, and Scallions.
But his nickname comes from a grade school basketball coach who thought the young student’s basketball skills were “sweet.” The name has stuck with Maggiore throughout the years and, when he decided to open his deli in Schuylerville two years ago, his wife Donna said, “why not name it Sweet Lou’s?”
Maggiore is originally from Brooklyn. His family moved upstate when he was ten. But that charming Brooklyn style and dash are still very much in evidence in the chef ’s manner and demeanor. When our intrepid trio entered the deli on a recent Tuesday evening, we weren’t quite sure what to expect – after all, we were going to a deli at 6 o’clock in the evening. Most deli’s do their biggest business during the day and are closed by dinner time.
Not Sweet Lou’s. The rustic broad wooden stairs that lead to the second floor of the recently renovated old building open to an equally rustic and charming space. The chalk board that takes up an entire wall is filled with descriptions of menu items, ranging from daily soups to deli sandwiches and subs to dinner entrees, all named after family and friends Maggiore has made over the years.
Maggiore said he spent two years renovating the building. When he and his wife purchased the property a few years earlier, it was divided into apartments.
“Funny thing, though,” said Maggiore with a twinkle in his eye, “our tenants didn’t seem
to think they actually had to pay rent.” In addition to his prodigious skills in the kitchen, Maggiore knows his way around storytelling.
He recalled how, after the building was vacant, he was sitting in the space one evening, glass of red wine in hand, staring at the sickly green walls, when the idea came to him to convert it into a deli. “My wife’s gonna kill me,” he remembered thinking to himself.
Fortunately for Maggiore – and for his loyal following – Donna was very supportive of her husband’s idea to open his own place.
For the next two years, he worked on the renovations himself, early in the mornings and in the evenings, after returning home from his full-time role as general manager of Longfellows.
The green walls are gone, replaced by natural rough-hewn wood and large plank floors that Maggiore resurfaced himself. The dining area has a classic cast-iron wood stove, with hammered tin lampshades suspended from the exposed beams in
the ceiling and large wooden tables and benches for communal seating, as well as three or four high tops with rustic chairs. The combined effect of casual rustic chic and the chef ’s natural charm and genuine
friendliness would be winners in their own right. When you factor in the food, you’ve got a home run.
Sweet Lou’s opened on October 23, 2017 and word of its wonderful food spread quickly. Maggiore’s original intent was just to offer deli food for people to take out. Before long, people wanted to stay and eat on the premises and soon after, they began asking about dinner entrees.
Maggiore responded by offering nightly specials that include the most incredible chicken parmigiana I have ever had, bacon- wrapped meatloaf and incredible meatballs and pasta, to name just a few of the mouth- watering choices on the menu board.
Business was going full-swing – until December 28th. The frigid weather resulted in freezing pipes, which burst and flooded the deli as
well as the bakery, Cake, which had recently relocated to the first floor of the building.
It only took 12 days for Maggiore and his team to get things repaired and back up and running, and Maggiore said that business has quickly picked up once again.
As we sit around our large table, with classic “Rat Pack” music in the background, Maggiore regales us with stories of growing up in the area and becoming a chef. In between his stories, he jumps up to greet
other diners as they enter the small but cozy space. He seems to know everybody, hugging his guests like they are family.
Maggiore, who has taught 5th grade church school in the community for years, recognizes one of the young girls who has come to eat with her family and he greets her with a big hug and warm words of welcome. It’s obvious how important the community is to him. He tells us that he can’t stay for very long because he has to go to the basketball game going on at the school.
Within a few minutes of placing our orders, the food starts coming out. We begin with breaded mozzarella sticks that are the size of a large Italian sausage. They are served with Maggiore’s own raspberry sauce. And they are divine. The breading is perfectly crisp and flavorful without being greasy. And the fresh mozzarella is also made in house by Maggiore. To die for.
What follows is a panoply of Italian favorites as well as new creations of sandwiches, salads, subs and entrees. Did I forget to mention the salad bar? The small buffet table is packed with an assortment of treats like Asian noodles with fresh crabmeat, mixed greens pickled in a sweet brine, courtesy of Maggiore, and dozens of other delectable side dishes.
As we go back to the salad bar to sample a little of everything, we return to a steaming cast-iron griddle filled with homemade meatballs in a superb tomato sauce, an Italian sub called “The Maggiore,” that is filled with premium Italian meats, fresh mozzarella, arugula and tomatoes, and our group favorite – the
“Luke” – named after a longtime friend and fan
of Maggiore’s cooking. To say that the “Luke” is
a turkey sandwich is like saying the Mona Lisa
is an oil painting. And that’s not hyperbole. The perfectly roasted turkey is juicy and flavorful and
is stacked high on a round egg roll, with tomatoes, lettuce, caramelized onions, and topped off with the creamiest and most flavorful spinach and artichoke cream sauce you will ever taste.
Our hands down “fave” in the entrée category is
the chicken parm. Like the mozzarella sticks, the flavorful breaded coating is savory without being greasy or overly heavy, and the chicken is moist, tender and melts in the mouth. Like the other entrees, it is served in a cast-iron pan with yummy garlic toast points. The cast-iron pans add a home-y chic feel to the meal.
Even though we’ve had enough food to feed a family of eight, we cannot pass up the offer of cupcakes from Cake by Alissa, which Maggiore sells in his deli. And they are, indeed, the icing on the cake that tops off an evening of great food, fun conversation and casual at-home ambience that everyone is going to want to enjoy. Its safe to say that, come summertime, Sweet Lou’s is going to be one of the “go to” places for visitors to the Saratoga region. But my suggestion is, don’t wait until summer. Go check out Sweet Lou’s today. SS
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