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Feb 26, 2009

The owners of the All Star Sandwich Bar serve up the country’s all-time favorite comfort foods.

By Donna Sapolin/Photography by Channing Johnson

Chef Johnny Diamantopoulos piles a mountain of thinly sliced roast beef atop a round caraway seed roll, then spins around to extract a cheese-draped hero from a large oven.
Back at the counter, he plucks the innards out of fluffy scali bread and spoons a spunky olive and provolone mixture into the cavity.
“It’s the foundation of a muffuletta, a New Orleans concoction,” he says, handing the plate off to his brother and partner, Kosta, who promptly whisks it to a line cook for completion.
The muffuletta is a top-seller at the All Star Sandwich Bar—the two brothers’ bustling, down-to-earth eatery in the heart of Cambridge, Mass. The brainchild of renowned Boston chef, Chris Schlesinger, All Star opened down the block from his other enterprise, the East Coast Grill, in late 2006 as a pushback against “all the chefs out there who were trying to re-invent the sandwich,” says Schlesinger. “I felt that the country already had a deep well of tradition from which to draw.”
Like Schlesinger, the Diamantopoulos brothers, who took over All Star last summer, shun grandiose gastronomic experiments in favor of historic reenactments of the Great American Meal, featuring two pieces of bread separated by simple ingredients and sold for refreshingly affordable prices. It’s hard to find anything at All Star for more than $10.
Eating your way through their menu is like taking a food tour of America. Hailing from New York City is a reuben with corned beef piled so high the upper slice of dark rye barely stays put. All Star’s pulled pork Cuban, redolent of an outdoor Florida grill, is thick with a perfect, homemade barbecue sauce.
Chef Johnny riffs on national classics featuring signature dressings, fresh-baked breads made with local, organic ingredients, smart heating and melting maneuvers—and quantity. He also makes the most of side dishes birthed in American dives and diners—hush puppies, fries with toppings and chilies.
Having trained at several top-flight Boston restaurants prior to assuming the chef role at All Star, Johnny is easily bored, and so, despite the tight parameters he and Kosta have set for the place, only half of the menu is constant. The other half features an ever-changing roster of chef specials that allow him to flex his culinary chops and hook those who like variety.
Popular from the start, All Star’s buzz has increased thanks to Johnny and Kosta’s refinements. From 11 in the morning until ten at night, the front door swings, admitting everyone from Harvard professors and MIT students to multi-generational families and tattoo artists.
“They’re responding to the sense of theater in the open kitchen, the upbeat music and the comfort food,” says Kosta. “You just can’t beat the appeal of that, especially in difficult economic times.”
Those are the very qualities that attracted the brothers to the business. After selling their parents’ Italian pizzeria in 2008, they searched for another operation that could make arduous restaurant work feel fun. They found what they were looking for in All Star’s bold colors, folksy chalkboards and back-to-basics menu. Kosta bolstered the cozy atmosphere by staffing the restaurant with people from the community.
“Everyone who comes in here feels at home,” he says. “And they’re eating down-home food. Those two things will keep them coming back.” 

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