From food truck to restaurant: Panino has changed but charcuterie remains same

Posted at 11:00 AM, Dec 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-03 11:00:09-05

CINCINNATI -- Panino, the food truck known for its made-from-scratch charcuterie products, has found a permanent parking spot at 1315 Vine St.

The food truck-turned-restaurant opened its doors on Black Friday, and this new beginning marks the end of the food truck.

“I sold the food truck to help raise funds for the restaurant," co-owner Nino Loreto said.

Nino Loreto and Joe Helm, co-owners of Panino. (Photo by Grace Yek.)

Joe Helm, who worked with Loreto on the food truck, is Loreto’s partner in this new venture. While both owners are adept in the kitchen, Helm now drives the front-of-the-house and Loreto leads all things culinary.

For now, the 55-seat restaurant will serve only lunch in a fast-casual format while the owners fine-tune the operation. The lunch menu, which is written on a chalkboard hanging over the counter, is reminiscent of the menu on the food truck, offering a handful of sandwich choices served on Sixteen Bricks bread, soft beverages and cookies.

The lunch menu board at Panino. (Photo by Grace Yek.)

Since its launch three years ago, Panino has been delighting customers with quality charcuterie items such as pastrami, coppa, pàté en croute, soppressata, pancetta and 'nduja (spreadable pork salumi).

These days, Loreto works his charcuterie magic in a chamber in the restaurant basement kept at precisely 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a "high humidity."

“I use a celery-based cure on all my stuff, not nitrates or nitrites,” he said. Natural curing salts like the one Loreto uses have become more popular in light of concerns over the side effects of chemical curing agents.

Nino Loreto at the sandwich board at Panino in Over-the-Rhine. (Photo by Grace Yek.)

Loreto and Helm are committed to sourcing ingredients locally. “We use a couple of different farmers in Kentucky for the hogs," Helm said. They also source from Gunthorp Farms in Indianapolis and Carriage House Farm in North Bend for items such as duck, turkey and honey. Cheeses come from purveyors such as Tulip Tree Creamery in Indianapolis and My Artisano Foods, an artisanal cheese company based in Sharonville. Their home gardens have become a part of the supply chain, too.

"We grew peppers that we make into spices to use in salami," Helm said. The sundried tomatoes on the menu also had their start in their gardens.

Loreto’s passion for charcuterie is in his blood. "My grandfather was a butcher," he said. "When I was 12, I wanted to start making sausages."

With a simple KitchenAid grinder attachment, the young Loreto made sausage links that were grilled and served at family gatherings. Although Loreto's grandfather died when Loreto was only 5, he left a small legacy that turned out to be big enough to give the young Loreto his start.

"My grandpa had a book of (handwritten) recipes; that's what I started with," he said. "There's an Italian sausage recipe, which I turned into one of the first salami I made.”

His grandfather's legacy lives on in another form: The restaurant’s sign was made from his butcher's block.

A distinctive aspect of Panino is the practice of whole animal butchery. "Nino and I break down the whole animal," Helm said. "We don't throw any of it away."

The restaurant reflects their aspiration for minimal waste. For example, the bar top was "upcycled" from an old bowling lane they salvaged from the now-shuttered Del-Fair Bowling Lanes in Delhi. Loreto and Helm also patiently restored a 1953 Thesco Schmidt deli case they found in Birdseye, Indiana, because they simply liked the aesthetics of old deli cases.

"We put in quite a few hundred man hours; we put in a new frame, insulation, flooring and refrigeration," Helm said.

The restaurant has a full liquor license, and the bar program is still developing with an unmistakable emphasis on local beer and wine.

"We will carry three Skeleton Root wines," Loreto said. "We have a good representation of local beers like Rhinegeist, MadTree and Mt. Carmel."

Panino's menu is expected to change constantly to reflect the harvest of local farms. The dinner menu is still being finalized but Helm hinted it will change periodically, too. "We’re going to let the farmers tell us, so we can help them (move product)," Helm said.

Loreto and Helm plan to expand Panino’s repertoire beyond cured meats to include composed entrées and vegetable specialties. Not wanting to sacrifice quality "for anything," Helm said they will add dinner service to the operation only when they feel ready. The plan is to have the grand opening coincide with the rollout of dinner service.


Address: 1315 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Information: 513-608-4113;

Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.