The Subs That Arrive on a Moped

Salvo’s is as Italian as lunch can get.

Photo: Michael Stone
Photo: Michael Stone

Around 11 a.m. on a recent Thursday, Salvatore La Rosa was on his 1977 Puch Magnum with a cooler of sandwiches in tow. He’d spent the morning putting them together — slices of soppressata with marinated zucchini and a heavy dose of Pecorino — and wrapping them in brown butcher paper. Compact subs, by the time they arrived at their destinations, oil had started to seep into the squishy Italian rolls. Since La Rosa launched Salvo’s Cucina Casalinga four months ago, the menu has changed every week, but the idea for the Instagram-only delivery service remains the same: Send a DM, choose a lunch option, pick a delivery time, and La Rosa will drop it off (in Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, or Ridgewood). Yes, he’ll be on his moped. “I will give all the credit for any success to the beauty of the moped,” La Rosa says.

The entire project happened somewhat by accident. He’d left his full-time job as a graphic designer — “I was tired of looking at a computer for endless hours of the day into the night,” he says — and started working as a courier to pay the bills. Earlier this year, he started posting photos of his lunches: “My first post, I remember I wrote, ‘Here’s a photo of my chicken cutlet sandwich that I sent to my mom, but y’all can look at it, too.’” He was surprised to see his followers wanted to do more than look; they were ready to become customers. La Rosa was already delivering packages for other people; why not deliver his own food, too? Salvo’s was born.

Every week brings something new: fried zucchini with mortadella, eggplant with mozzarella, or prosciutto with stracciatella and figs. He’s also sold jars of caponata, arancini inspired by his dad’s childhood in Sicily, and lasagna with Bolognese. For the sandwiches (which range in price from $14 to $17), he adheres to a simpler-is-better philosophy: “I like to stick to around three ingredients,” he says. “Whenever people are mixing two or three different types of meats — that’s just overloaded. If a place has something like ‘the Godfather’ on the menu, I’m always a little wary of it.”

The menu changes every week. Photo: Michael Stone

La Rosa officially launched Salvo’s this past June with a chicken-cutlet sub featuring mozzarella and marinated artichokes. “Shout out to my Mamma for helping me craft this week’s menu,” he wrote. Since then, he’s become something of a sandwich savant: He marinates artichokes and zucchini himself; meat comes from different sources, like soppressata from Goode & Local, a Hudson Valley company run by a friend’s dad. Now, he has friends bring back hard-to-find ingredients from Italy, too, like Caciocavallo cheese; dried salami; and strattu, a dense, concentrated tomato paste from Sicily. The rolls, meanwhile, come from the Ridgewood bakery Monreale, where his family would go when visiting an uncle in Queens. “It’s not cute or charming at all. It’s almost sterile,” he says. “You question whether they’re even open, but it doesn’t matter because the bread is delicious.”

Salvo’s, La Rosa is happy to explain, isn’t a one-man operation. He uses family recipes, like a pasta Genovese, that he happily messes with. His mom Antonia is always present, if not always physically. She was in the kitchen with him the first week; more often, they’re hashing out recipes on the phone.

She grew up near Arthur Avenue, and La Rosa would make regular trips there as a kid. Restaurants weren’t a regular feature of his childhood in New Rochelle, though. Instead, he remembers years where three generations of his family lived under one roof, and one September weekend where the kids would be recruited to help “make the sauce” for the winter. “There was a big swimming pool where we washed all the tomatoes, and we did it by letting all the kids splash around in the pool,” he says. “It’s pretty disgusting to think about it, but that’s how I got involved, and then I started cooking.”

Now 30, La Rosa spent his first six years out of college working at the downtown design agency GrandArmy before leaving in 2021 to freelance, launching his own design studio and starting a punk band, Mirage. (Their songs are driven by hammering percussion and forceful vocals from La Rosa, who sings in both Italian and English.) Finding out that strangers want to buy his food has been “trippy,” he says, and he has some regulars now, too; remote work means there’s a built-in audience in a part of town that isn’t exactly known for its robust weekday-lunch options.

When La Rosa rolled up to my block recently to hand me a sandwich (mortadella with burrata and crushed pistachios), we started talking about his band and recent trips he’d taken to Sicily. A lot of young people, he said, have been moving to Palermo, and he was excited about the music scene there. But before I could ask why, he was off; he had more sandwiches to deliver that day.

The Subs That Arrive on a Moped