Casetta interior

Casetta, which means "little house" or cabin in Italian, is a modern and well-appointed space with lots of counter seating. 

The Italian-American deli Casetta Kitchen and Counter makes some of the most extraordinary sandwiches in Madison. It’s hard to beat its turkey sandwich.

The breakfast and lunch spot opened Feb. 16 on West Washington Avenue, where Bluephies Downtown Deli used to be. It’s on the ground floor of an office building that is home to Sonic Foundry, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, among others. Those folks have it made after going for two years with no restaurant there.

Casetta Kitchen is versatile and does many things well, starting with strong, rich coffee; flaky, buttery, homemade scones ($3); and large, reasonably priced egg sandwiches ($6) with fluffy eggs, crunchy bacon and melted cheddar on a soft and hardy roll.

What’s nice about eating lunch here is that customers can order half or whole sandwiches, and the sandwiches are piled high and are plenty filling.

So, back to that turkey sandwich ($6/$10). It’s one of a kind — made with thinly sliced, marinated cucumbers that don’t come on as strong as pickles, finely shredded lettuce, tomato, provolone cheese and a brilliant take on green goddess dressing, applied generously.

Casetta turkey

The turkey sandwich at Casetta Kitchen and Counter is one of a kind -- made with thinly-sliced, marinated cucumbers that don't come on as strong as pickles; finely-shredded lettuce; tomato; provolone; and a brilliant take on green goddess dressing. 

The Italian ($6/$10) sandwich also makes a great impression, with layers of capicola, salami, ham and provolone. It comes “with everything” and that means lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, oil and vinegar, and dried herbs. It also gets some heat from chili peppers, marinated in house.

“I don’t know where they put it all, but it’s in there,” said co-owner James Juedes, who is Casetta’s wine guy. His partner Tommy Gering is on the food side of things.

Most of the meat on the Italian sandwich comes from Underground Butcher. Casetta slices it.

Both of these sandwiches had more meat than bread. When was the last time that happened?

“The Italian sandwich, in particular, it’s a commitment. We love that one,” said Juedes when I marveled at the amount of meat during a recent phone conversation.

Customers can choose between focaccia or a hero roll with sesame seeds. You can’t go wrong with either. Both were fresh and delicious.

“Deli sides” come in three sizes (side $3/regular $6/large $9), and the small was just enough to bring a little extra to the meal. One had baby rainbow carrots, some roasted, some raw; as well as fennel, lemon and pickled onion. Casetta, amazingly, managed to make carrots interesting.

The beets also had the right touch, cubed and blended with a modest amount of crème fraîche, horseradish and dill. Some seeds on top were a nice touch.

Casetta exterior

Casetta Kitchen and Counter opened in mid-February in a high rise on West Washington Avenue.

If everything wasn’t impressive enough, Casetta came through with a wonderful pasta e fagioli soup ($4/$6), a tomato-based pasta and bean soup with Israeli couscous instead of noodles, and chunks of Italian sausage. “This is abounding with flavor,” a friend said.

Leading chefs aren’t making this soup any better than the guys at Casetta.

So who are they?

Juedes, 30, and Gering, 28, are longtime friends who grew up in Wausau. Their fathers were neighbors most of their lives, so Juedes and Gering have been, too. The families often vacationed together.

“We’ve always stayed really close, almost like family,” Juedes said.

Gering is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in well-known New York restaurants. Juedes has an extensive wine background, and once was a sommelier at L’Etoile.

Casetta Italian sandwich

The Italian sandwich makes a great impression, with layers of capicola, salami, ham and provolone. It comes "with everything," including lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, oil and vinegar, dried herbs, and marinated chili peppers.

The wine selection at Casetta is small, like the space, and largely European. Casetta, which means “little house” or cabin in Italian, is modern and well-appointed with a tall, gray banquette, two large tables, and lots of counter seating. The counter-service restaurant does a lot of take-out.

Its kitchen closes at 3 p.m., after lunch, and then it offers to-go dinners, which feed two and need to be heated.

I tried the eggplant Parmesan ($18), a dense, lasagna-like meal. It was fine, but not spectacular. My companion added shredded cheese at home to enhance hers.

We also split a peppery Italian salad ($8), a treat, with equal parts radicchio and romaine, and tiny cubes of salami and provolone, among other ingredients. An Italian vinaigrette hit the right notes.

Other food isn’t available after 3 p.m., which Juedes said has caused some confusion. The restaurant stays open to serve cocktails, beer and wine for happy hour and it hosts occasional pop-up dinners.

I wish its amazing sandwiches and sides were available in the evening, too. But you can’t have everything.

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.