Baldarotta’s is for eaters. If you’ve been to Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage, you already know. The casual eatery slings big, bold flavors in stacked sandos inside Lincoln Square Mall — and has since August 2019. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about Baldarotta’s in real life, and people don’t know what it is. So, I dedicate this review to all the ears that have never heard of Baldarotta’s and all the bellies that haven’t had Baldarotta’s Sicilian sandwiches and badass pizza.
Baldarotta’s began as a pop-up at Sipyard in 2017. In 2019, the restaurant took over the entire food court of the mall. At the Urbana sandwich shop, diners order and pay at the register, then wait for staff (usually the owner) to holler out a name when the order’s ready.
Since this review goes out to Baldarotta’s newbs, I ordered things that were not my usual order, the Italian beef sandwich that I’ve already written about here, here, and here. Unfairly, I worried whether other sandwiches on the menu could match the absolutely delicious Italian beef, but I told myself that I could go back up to the counter and order my beef if I didn’t like the other stuff. Over lunch dates on Fridays, I tried three sandwiches, a slice of pizza, and a honey-cinnamon cannoli.
To start, I ordered Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage’s Porketta sandwich ($14), which came with a free pickle spear. Wrapped in deli paper, the sandwich had slices of Italian pork roast, provolone, banana peppers, spinach leaves, and salsa verde on homemade focaccia. Don’t tell the beef, but damn, this sandwich was just as delicious.
The pork was unbelievably tender and tasted so good. Some bites tasted like pulled pork, some were chewier, some melted in my mouth, and that thick, white piece of pork? That jiggly bite was nirvana; a ribbon of fat rendered to luscious texture with amazing flavor. Bitter spinach and herbaceous salsa balanced the fattiness of the pork, and I liked the crunch and acidity from the chopped peppers. Melted provolone acted as glue keeping everything inside the fresh-baked focaccia. Pressed on a griddle before serving, the sandwich’s bread was toasted on the outside and buttery on the inside.
I also ordered a side of fries ($3) because I love the house-cut fries here. When we went last Friday, Baldarotta’s launched ketchup for the first time on the menu. Of course, we tried some (free for the first cup, extra charge for more). This ketchup was more of an Italian roasted red pepper and tomato sauce, and it was great. I’m not a ketchup gal, but this red pepper condiment was so good I took the rest home in my purse.
We visited on a Friday, so we ordered a slice of Sicilian-style pepperoni pizza ($4). Different than other pizza in Champaign-Urbana, it’s cut into a rectangle, wowza, and the crust’s an inch-thick all around. A slice here is pretty much cheesy garlic bread with marinara and curled up pepperoni on top. The melty mozz had a satisfying cheese pull that dragged deliciously oily pepperoni into each bite. Crisped but not burnt, my slice was a corner piece with two toasty edges that crunched like croutons. Be aware though, the restaurant only serves pizza (take-and-bake too) Thursday through Saturday.
On another visit, I ordered the chicken parmesan sandwich ($14), which was a hot sandwich with breaded chicken cutlet, mozzarella, provolone, tomatoes, marinara, basil, parmesan, and pesto on focaccia with a side pickle. In between soft bread toasted from the sandwich press, cheese layered both sides of the hand-breaded chicken, hunks of mozz on bottom and sliced provolone up with the pesto. I loved the big roasted tomatoes on this a lot. The breading on the cultet wasn’t crispy, but the herbs in the bread crumbs did add tasty Italian flavor to the chicken.
Switching it up from fries, I ordered a side of the tortellini salad ($3). This container was packed with cold cheese-filled pasta in a pistachio pesto. Sometimes cold pasta can be kind of stiff, but these tortellini were soft. The minced garlic and chopped basil gave the mild tortellini some oomph. I haven’t seen pistachio pesto before, but the pistaschio doesn’t change the flavor enough (for me) to notice — but it does mean that my friend with a pine nut allergy can eat this pesto. While the tortellini makes a fine side, I’m not picking it over the fries.
I also ordered the Friday special: the meatball smash ($14). The sandwich had gigantic Italian meatballs, marinara, fresh basil, mozzarella, provolone slices, and olive oil on a ciabatta roll. It came with a pickle, and I added a side of fries ($3). The meatballs were straight up amazing. Made with a trio of beef, veal, and pork, the flavors were so delicious with fresh herbs, onions, and garlic, in there, too. The dapple of marinara and gooey cheese was good, but the meatballs were totally delicious and outshined everything. This sandwich is only available on Fridays.
Lastly, I ordered the cinnamon honey cannolo ($4.50). From the shell to the filling, Baldarotta’s makes cannoli from scratch, and in other flavors, too, like pistachio, cookies and cream, raspberry chocolate chip, and bourbon pecan. Filled (to order!) with cinnamon-flecked ricotta, the Sicilian dessert’s thin shell audibly crunched on every bite. I loved how the center was sweet but not overly so. The real sweetness came from three kinds of sugar: gritty cinnamon sugar on the ends, a dusting of powdered sugar, and the sticky honey drizzle. Tasting like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with the crunch and milky center, this cannolo was so yummy.
There’s about twenty tables inside the dining area, and it’s nice for a casual meal. If dining with a group, tables can easily be pushed together to accommodate.
Overall, Baldarotta’s hits. If you’re looking for a bad-ass mom-and-pop sandwich shop, this is it. The restaurant bakes sandwich bread daily, cuts their own fries, and makes their Sicilian sausage in-house. What’s more, Mr. & Mrs. Baldarotta themselves are right there making sandwiches on the line and calling out orders. The restaurant sources their pork just an hour away from Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury. They offer gelato and also a kids’ menu with plain sandwiches (grilled cheese, pepperoni, ham, or turkey) with chips, pickle, and drink. Sometimes they have delicious arancini on special, and one time, they competed in Artisan Cup & Fork with a sparerib osso bucco.
I really didn’t think anything on the menu could top their Italian beef sandwich, but the Porketta is up there, tied with the beef as my favorite sandwich here. Everything we ordered for this review was good, and that tracks with my other experiences over the years. Don’t just take my word for it. Read Patrick’s Restaurant Week review and Zoe’s review from February 2020, or follow the Urbana restaurant on Facebook or Instagram for almost daily photos of Sicilian food with cheeky captions.
Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
inside Lincoln Square
300 S Broadway Ave
T-F 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.