The Bensonhurst storefront on 7803 15th Avenue has a long reputation in the neighborhood for its fresh mozzarella, and a slightly newer reputation for its mouthwatering, arm-long heroes.
“We deliver all the way out to Jersey,” the co-owner of Lioni Italian Heroes sandwich shop told us over the counter, as he finished wrapping a #62 (one of their most popular items), The Alyssa Milano (“Call Collect For This One”), featuring chicken cutlet, prosciutto di Parma, Lioni Fresh Mozzarella, and basil mix for $16.
Formerly a mozzarella joint, the former owners moved their operation out to Jersey, and two local brothers took over. They live half a block away and have been running the place for 20 years.
Every item on the colorful hero menu has a number and an Italian persona. Highlights include the Joe DiMaggio (turkey, Lioni Fresh Mozzarella, roasted peppers, olive oil, oregano, salt and black pepper), the Marisa Tomei (fried eggplant, Lioni Fresh Mozzarella, mushroom stuffing) and Tony Danza (Sicilian salami, ham cappy, Lioni Fresh Mozzarella, olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano), to name a few.
In addition to their prolific hero menu — there are well over 100 options — Lioni’s also has an olive bar and a hot buffet with classic Italian comfort dishes. The walls are lined with pasta, sauces, and an impressive collection of Brooklyn Dodgers paraphernalia, in addition to yellowed signs with dated but still amusing advice.
There’s dollar a loaf “Fresh Italian Bread” in a box by the counter and a dining area by the front which can comfortably fit a large group.
Having never been to Lioni’s before, and not paying much attention to the menu, merely asking the owner for whatever he recommended, we were in for a surprise when we discovered our $16 hero was as long as our forearm. It took two people to finish it (and that felt like an accomplishment) but we enjoyed every moment of it.
While the #62 was admittedly a tad dry, every ingredient stood out with its flavor and freshness.
That Lioni’s makes a mean sandwich is, according to the owner, recognized by the entire community, including non-Italians. “We got lucky,” he said of the fact that, despite massive demographic changes in recent years, he’s still got enough customer loyalty and new customer attention to stay in business.