On a bend of Cave Creek Road thick with biker bars, rodeo grounds, and timeworn stucco, you see the storefront in a psychedelic swirl. COLOR. DAISIES. STRIPES. A cartoon-purple sign shouts the name of the shop: Vino & Panino. Inside, flower garlands stream and lava lamps glow and glop. Deep purple and highlighter-yellow are the chief colors, but for the TVs, which play shows and movies from a groovier era. Disco balls and prosciutto haunches dangle.
“We are a ‘70s type of panini shop,” says Ralphie Castellano, who opened Vino & Panino in September with his wife, Pam Castellano. “When you walk through the front door, you feel like you went through a membrane and back in time.”
Just like the name, Vino & Panino combines wine and panini. (Panino is the singular of panini.) Castellano, who pivoted to a culinary career in 1997 after one as a jet mechanic, designed each sandwich, pressed on a grill or served on a hoagie roll, to go with wine. For instance, his Angry Turkey panini, which gains its lividness from spicy giardiniera, is meant to go with riesling from Washington’s Columbia Valley.
Ralphie's wine offerings fill three refrigerators in back of his colorful shop — two white, one red. They’re heavy on Spain, Italy, and the American West Coast. Look closely, and you’ll see an Arizona wine or two.
The idea of the shop is that you can half-watch Gilligan’s Island and listen to Steely Dan while eating “gabagool” sandwiches, sipping chilled wine.
The Castellanos are children of the ‘70s, an era they relish. The theme was Pam’s idea. “She wanted to do something that was very different from Cave Creek,” Ralphie says.
Ralphie captains the culinary side of the shop. After his time as a mechanic, he received French culinary training. Ralphie then worked in a host of restaurants in Chicago, many with big names, like Charlie Trotter’s. The Castellanos moved to Arizona almost exactly a year ago.
Vino & Panino is the first of three food-focused concepts to open side-by-side on their colorful strip of Cave Creek Road. Soon, they’ll be unfurling a fine dining space called Ralphie Castellano’s. There will also be a Chicago-style deli with a wine-bottle-shaped door that leads back into Vino & Panino.
At Vino & Pino, flavors of their native Chicago lace the ’70s and Italian sandwich themes.
The menu includes an Italian beef, Vienna Beef hot dog, Italian sausages from Chicago, and panini bread from Berwyn, Illinois. That bread is designed by its maker, Turano Baking Company, to be griddled to light thin crispness in the style of the casual, classic Italian sandwich.
Aside from a menu of sandwiches featuring turkey, prosciutto, salumi, aged provolone, and other deli staples mixed and remixed, there are a few interesting finds, like a pulled pork marinated in espresso. They often have a mild flash or two to match the décor: fried pepperoncini, squiggles of balsamic glaze.
Right now, the menu is in a phase of trial and shifting. It contains plenty of workaday American classics, like crinkle-cut fries and corn dogs. A sneeze-guarded toppings bar by the entrance chills peppers, relish, tomato, and pickles, ready to be forked onto pressed sandwiches.
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Wine pours are $8 to $12 for five ounces.
The shop has eight seats inside, 16 on a back patio, and a few more out front. The Castellanos freely welcome lingering, meaning you can stick around after lunch and plug in your computer, and maybe nurse another wine or eat lemon gelato. Ralphie may even give you a sample of Italian beef and solicit your feedback, which he may then use in his ongoing revision of the sandwiches.
“It’s a panini shop where we’re trying to up the level of panini,” he says.
Vino & Panino.
6920 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek; 480-595-0976.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.