Sliced Bread

Sliced Bread

There’s nothing fancy about Corso’s Deli & Subs. Located in a squat mini mall on Route 1 in West Haven, the humble bones of the place—brick-red floor tiles gridded with dark grout, cement-block walls painted mostly white, old cases finished in mismatched faux wood, a letterboard menu filled with staples and classics—look like they haven’t changed much in decades.

But there’s more to this deli than meets the eye, starting with the warm family atmosphere maintained by husband and wife Mike and Anna Annunziata. They’re the full-time staff, aside from the occasional “relief shift” provided by Mike’s sister, Maria Fanelli, and I sense from a recent visit that everyone who crosses the threshold is an instant friend, even when they’re making a mess.

I had dashed in during a Saturday afternoon monsoon, soaking wet, for an Italian combo sub ($9.75) to go. Mike immediately grilled me for my preferences: “Mayo or just oil? Lettuce and tomato? Any peppers?” Once satisfied he’d made it according to my specs, he wrapped and handed it to Anna, who said to me, “Here, honey. Go home and enjoy this with a glass of wine. It’ll make the whole day better.”

It did. So did the bacon, egg and cheese ($6.50) and steak, egg and cheese (5.75) I had for breakfast the ensuing week, and the tub of homemade chicken salad ($3)—featuring touches of celery, onion and dill—that I couldn’t stop eating in between. None of these creations would be called “gourmet,” yet they were thoroughly satisfying in a homestyle way: the rolls perfectly fresh, the meats tasty and tender, the seasonings well-balanced.

During one of my drop-ins, I chatted with Cory Colman, a regular who’s been coming to Corso’s, Mike says, “ever since his mom carried him in her belly. I call him my ‘son.’” Colman marvels at the deli’s consistency: “It’s always offered good food, good vibes, good people.” A 2023 citation awarded Corso’s by the Connecticut House of Representatives, which hangs by the shop’s checkout station, reinforces this point of view, commending the business for its “60-Plus Years Dedicated to Serving the Community And Being A Pillar Within The Community.”

Annunziata is understandably proud of this recognition. He started working for the Corsos in 1970 at age 14, not long after his own family emigrated from Italy. At first, he says, Corso’s was a neighborhood grocery store, selling lots of fruit and vegetables. After the Corso family opened a second business in Bridgeport, they transferred ownership of the West Haven shop to Annunziata’s mother, who passed it on to her son when he married Anna in 1982. The transformation to a deli started slowly, with a single-item menu of ham and cheese sandwiches, “but before long,” Mike says, “I started making everything else.”

He admits that while the business has provided a living, he’s never made a lot of money. That’s partly, he says, due to the charity he shows customers who are less fortunate. “I’ve done a lot of good deeds here. I have customers who come in and ask for favors: clothes, food. I give those to them. A lot pay me back; some don’t. I’ve lost a lot of money. But I’m not changing; I still want to take care of people. I mean, what’s money? How much do you need? People are so greedy these days. They want more, more, more.” While there are times when Annunziata has caught a customer shoplifting, he’s only called the police once. “If a kid steals from me, I say, “Look, let’s just call your mother or father.”

Whether up or down, he’s never considered doing anything else. “Where am I gonna go?” he says. “I was never a book-smart guy. I was held back in school three times in Italy.” Though he’s found it hard to leave the store even for a vacation, he’s begun thinking about retiring in the next couple of years. He looks forward to spending more time with his five grandchildren and pursuing activities currently limited to non-deli hours, among them helping his daughter and son-in-law cultivate Country Farm, a Northford nursery selling, along with flowers, the stuff Corso’s used to: fruits and vegetables.

As for me, I look forward to trying the hot subs, particularly the veal and peppers ($8.95), the chicken cacciatore ($8.95) or the eggplant broccoli rabe ($9.50). So far at Corso’s, I haven’t gone wrong—and I’m approaching the point of thinking I can’t.

Corso’s Deli & Subs
702 Boston Post Rd, West Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 8am-4:30pm
(203) 932-1303

Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean. Image features Mike Annunziata.

More Stories