A Feast at Little Phil's

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

inside Little Phil's Phil Diou, the owner of the recently opened Little Phil’s Artisanal Delicatessen, wants you to feel at home in his restaurant. The space is furnished with pieces from Phil’s Sicilian grandmother and has a decidedly comfortable vibe. Some customers feel so at home at Little Phil’s that they clear their own plates from their table!

Phil laughs at this and explains that he grew up the only child in a family of women who loved to cook, and he spent a large part of his childhood in the kitchen with them. His first culinary foray was beef bourguignon and homemade Caesar salad- not too shabby for a ten year old! At fourteen he began casually working in his family’s restaurant, and from there branched out to other locations before opening his own. He vacillated on what to name his restaurant, before eventually settling on the most natural choice. Growing up in a family of Phil’s, Little Phil was his childhood nickname, and it stuck. At thirty-six, Phil has gained extensive culinary knowledge and experience, which comes across in every dish he prepares.

To call Little Phil’s a deli hardly does it justice, as the food offered far surpasses the standard offerings of egg salad and mass-produced meats. Phil roasts nearly all of his meats in house, and what he doesn’t make himself he orders from the aptly named Food Matters company in Brooklyn. Focused on local, organic, and sustainable food, Grilled Vegthe company supplies Phil with the highest quality cheese and meat available. Phil also makes all his own sauces, and even his own mozzarella, which he has perfected over the years. He buys his bread from Nicolo’s, the local Italian bakery staple, and uses many recipes passed down through generations of his family. All this attention to detail pays off in the product, and everything that Phil prepared for me to taste was thoughtfully prepared and delicious both to eat and to look at. 

We started with a classic antipasto platter built from ingredients in his deli case. The plate was layered with gorgeous bruschetta, marinated Portobello mushrooms and artichokes, pesto tortellini, roasted red peppers, and some of Phil’s homemade mozzarella. Finished with a drizzle of balsamic, everything on the plate was seasoned and flavored perfectly. I didn’t want to let this plate go, but Phil assured me there was a lot more to come. Boy was he right!

We moved on to split pea soup, finished with freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano cheese. Phil makes a different kind of soup fresh every day, and plans to make two daily in the fall. I anticipate that being the perfect carry-out dinner when the days turn dark and chilly.

Capellini PieAfter the soup, Phil brought out some classic Italian rice balls- sort of like deep-fried risotto. Crispy on the outside and deliciously melting and cheesy inside, these are definitely a standout.

Next came a homemade crepe filled with ricotta cheese and topped with homemade Jersey plum tomato sauce. Phil makes the sauce from the same recipe his mother and grandmother used when tomatoes were in season to save for the year.

My absolute favorite dish was the old-fashioned cappellini pie, another recipe passed down from Phil’s grandmother. Originally made to use up leftover pasta, it’s baked with eggs, cheese, heavy cream, basil, and prosciutto until set, and it’s honestly out of this world.

Aside from the Italian classics, Phil also makes amazing sandwiches and wraps, using innovative flavor combinations with impressive results. One of the most popular menu items, the no-mayo tuna salad wrap, layers tuna salad, avocado, cucumber, pickled ginger and watercress with wasabi vinaigrette. The wrap is light and fresh, getting a kick of flavor from the pickled ginger. Equally delicious is the grilled vegetable wrap, with layers of vegetables, that homemade mozzarella, hummus, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. For vegetarians, Phil offers homemade white bean veggie burgers with melted cheddar cheese and a spicy mayo on top. Even as a confirmed non-vegetarian, I would order this any day of the week. In addition to the standing menu, Phil prepares a collection of daily specials, which today included a BBQ pulled pork Panini topped with mango chutney- the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.

Though mostly a lunch place, Phil’s offers a curated selection of breakfast offerings, including an almond butter, jelly, and banana Panini that’s worth waking up for, and Nutella and strawberry French toast that’ll turn you into a morning person. Coupled with an espresso or a cappuccino, and you’ll have the perfect breakfast. 

And if you’re looking for a little something sweet, look no further then Phil’s dessert case. Stocked with soft chocolate chip cookies, golden macaroons, Jersey berry tarts, chocolate covered almonds, chocolate ganache cake, and ridiculously good lemon cookies, whatever you’re in the mood for you’ll find here.

Little Phil’s has a decidedly Italian bent, but definitely offers a diverse and out of the ordinary menu. Phil says the deli has Italian influence but not dominance, and I completely agree. As Little Phil’s closes in on it’s first summer, look out for a pre-fix dinner menu, and hopefully family-style dinners on Saturday nights. Phil also has a catering company, Figlia Mia, which recently prepared food for the MTV Video Music Awards, and caters events both large and small with the same attention to detail so evident in Little Phil’s.

If you've been to Little Phil's let us know what you ate, and be sure to cast your vote for Little Phil's in the Heat Index.

The review was not anonymous.

38 Upper Montclair Plz
Montclair, NJ 07043

(973) 337-5800